Theatre review: ‘A boy and his soul’ at the Tricycle Theatre

A Boy and His Soul
by Colman Domingo at The Tricycle Theatre. Director Titas Halder
Designer Richard

A Boy and His Soul by Colman Domingo at The Tricycle Theatre. Director Titas Halder Designer Richard Kent Lighting Designer Oliver Fenwick Sound Designer Mike Thacker - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

Hilarious and poignant reminder that home is where the heart is

A Boy and His Soul

Tricycle Theatre


Colman Domingo’s bittersweet music ‘n’ monologue retrospective of his west ‘Philly childhood is both an hilarious life-affirming tour de force and a poignant reminder that however far from home you roam, the people and places you started with will tug you back.

The only kid in his family to go to college, Colman – known as Jay Jay – is a struggling 30-something New York performer, asked to help clear the old family home before its sale.

There in Richard Kent’s damp basement set – lovingly rendered in orange-hued 70s detail – he discovers the soul records that provided the soundtrack to his youth – Aretha, the Isley Brothers, James Brown, Teddy Prendergrass, Gladys Knight.

Most Read

They remind him of block parties and barbecues, of his loving, sometimes embarrasing, working-class family and inner city neighbourhood that he nevertheless sought to escape.

What follows is J.J’s bid to understand how his parents discarded such an important part of their past – and his own journey to let some old ghosts go – while all importantly hanging onto what matters.

Reconciling your past with your present is a theme that might be clichéd in lesser hands but Domingo is a thoroughly engaging, charismatic and energetic host, blending sharp observation with affection when lampooning his geeky, bookish violin-playing younger self, sassy, ever-smoking sister Averie, crotch-grabbing butch brother Rick, and gruff, soul-loving step-dad Clarence.

The passage where his brother buys him a lap dance for his 21st birthday and their varying reactions to his coming out is both touching and belly-laugh funny.

And when he talks of his beloved mother’s stymied dreams of a university education and optimistic hope that “just because you wish for it doesn’t mean it won’t come true” it is a heartbreaking evocation of the narrow life expectations of an American woman of her race, class and age for whom songs were vital to see through tough times. A little more anger or politically-charged barbs about why his old neighbourhood is now full of “drugs and thugs” might have rowed this back from the occasional threat of sentiment, but Domingo leaves us in no doubt that, for all his personal journey, he proudly remembers where he’s come from.

Until September 21.

Bridget Galton