A Boy and His Soul at the Tricycle Theatre
For a few weeks, the accomplished American actor Colman Domingo has brought his “autobiographical solo play with music” from America’s east coast to the sprawl of north west London. It has already been well-received and unsurprisingly so, as this 85-minute whistle-stop tour through 70s and 80s Philadelphia is nothing but a virtuosic triumph.
Domingo plays himself, now known as Jay, and we open on the messy basement, full of childhood memories (early stereo, vinyl LPs, bikes, toys, etc.) of Jay’s parents’ house. In preparation for a realtor, Jay begins to thumb through his collection of soul music and reflects on the records, their significance to him and his family, and the impact they had on his upbringing.
The comedy starts rather broadly – karaoke and well-timed air-drumming will always garner a few titters – but once Domingo settles into his groove, A Boy and His Soul becomes an absorbing tale to witness as he lovingly reminisces over the music – “Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye…and Switch!” – and hysterically addresses the audience: “Are you even down with Switch?!”
What makes the performance so engaging is Colman’s ability to vividly portray his family members, each with their idiosyncratic traits and distinct voices. More impressively is his ability to keep everything audible through near-faultless accentuation, so even when he’s racing through the lines relentlessly, switching between characters and trading insults, you never miss a line or gag. Although, at times, the performances threaten to recall Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor shtick, the quality of wit inherent in Colman’s script is thankfully on an incomparably higher level.
Certainly, the play has some eccentric (bordering on crude) moments, the apogee undoubtedly being Jay’s visits to a strip club wherein a “crack ho stripper” armed with a “dill pickle” makes “radical gestures with her tongue and the vegetable” while gyrating wildly. But Domingo also delivers some truly poignant and equally memorable moments: a late-night backyard chat with his mother, a series of phone calls in which Jay comes out to his family and a scene in a hospital ward after Jay’s father’s diet of chicken fried “hard in lard” catches up with him.
Aided superbly by perfect musical direction and effective lighting, that both create genuine moments of displacement whenever the story flicks back from the imagined settings to the contemporary basement location. Colman is clearly having the time of his life, and you will too.
A Boy and His Soul is at the Tricycle Theatre until 21st September 2013.
Watch the trailer for A Boy and His Soul here: