A Boy and his Soul

An autobiographical story with soul music filling the background of every memory Colman Domingo shared with his family.
A Boy and his Soul

Poet and author, Maya Angelou, once said, ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them’. And that can be a hard rule to follow when watching an autobiographical one man show. In Colman Domingo’s A Boy and His Soul, Domingo shows us a little authenticity, but a hell of a lot of soul. It’s the story of how he grew up in West Philadelphia in the United States through the seventies and eighties, with soul music filling the background of every memory he shared with his family.

Funnily enough, Domingo even played Maya Angelou in Logo’s short-lived Big Gay Sketch Show, cutting his teeth on scripted sketch comedy alongside the likes of current Saturday Night Live superstar, Kate McKinnon. And Domingo, who has recently had more dramatic turns in The Scottsboro Boys and The Butler, is comfortable with comedy. His portrayal of various family members is big and boisterous – whether puffing out his chest as his brother Rick, or puffing a cigarette as sassy older sister Averie – at times, bordering on caricature. Still, he has great affection for them – after all, for Domingo, they aren’t just characters in a play. Domingo’s stepfather is keen to see himself as the domineering patriarch of this adopted family, but he’s also vulnerable, desperate even. His mother is played as quiet and supportive, a hard-working woman who wants nothing more than for Domingo to escape West Philly and see the world for himself.

Of course, there’s another story in here too – a story of how, through soul, Domingo embraced his sexuality in his youth. Coming out can be tough, but Domingo does it on stage every night, again and again. How each of the members of his family reacts to the news is one of the show’s great joys.   

Domingo is no fading wallflower. You get the sense that every seat in the Visy Theatre could be empty and he’d still dance and twist upon the stage with the same enthusiasm and bravado. He is a showman first and a playwright second, so naturally this show serves as a platform for his versatility. But that also means he is all too willing to show of all the shades in his colouring box, even if it does not serve the story. A collaboration with another playwright may have levelled an uneven production, but Domingo has every right to be protective of his story – intensely personal as it is. Though it wades into sentimentality, it is never overcome by it. The (slightly small) opening night crowd was moved enough to get up off of their seats – not to join in on ‘The Hustle’, but for a polite standing ovation.

Of course, half the fun is watching the audience get into a semi-groove when Domingo (and his neatly-assembled soul soundtrack) orders it. The mood is infectious and one crowd member just across the aisle looks as if she wanted to bust out of her laced-cardigan for the full 80 minutes. A Boy and His Soul lacks polish and subtlety, not that it ever aims for it. Domingo just wants to have a damn good time – and he wants the same for you.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A Boy and His Soul
By Colman Domingo
Directed by Tony Kelly

Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse
World Theatre Festival
February 12 – February 

Peter Taggart

Monday 17 February, 2014

About the author

Peter Taggart is a writer and journalist based in Brisbane, Australia.