A Boy and His Soul, Tricycle Theatre, London – review

Colman Domingo’s solo piece about growing up in Philadelphia surrounded by soul music does not, alas, centre on the early-1970s golden age of Philly soul: Domingo is several years too young for that. This is a much more catholic mix, including Michael Jackson, the Ohio Players and Earth, Wind & Fire and encompassing much that we would consider more disco or funk than soul. Unfortunately, the dramatic material is not as colossal as many of its musical counterparts.

At first, as Domingo clears his parents’ old albums from the basement of their former house, it seems that we may be in for little more than an extended evangelical riff on the music itself; it takes a while for Domingo to integrate the tracks we hear with recollections from his family’s past, such as the musical battles waged in the house each Saturday night as his sister and brother each prepared to go out while Domingo himself tried to practise his violin.

Some of the music is now tinged with period camp, which the author/performer acknowledges by, unusually, dropping into a Barry White basso register to deliver his most blatant punchlines. But the camp also settles into the weave of the material, as the subject moves to Domingo’s adolescent coming-out to family members one by one. He handles the tale well, but I couldn’t help feeling that this was too obvious to be a compelling turn of events within the genre of solo autobiographical performance. By the time he moves on to a more recent visit to his ailing parents, it is clear that we are well on the way to a sentimentally affirmative ending of the kind typical in such work.

The portrait of the young JJ (his family nickname) is at least not the stereotype of a boy discovering his sexuality through the music. Domingo deploys moments of queeny flamboyance as convenient, although his self-portrait becomes more unambiguously gay as, well, as he does himself. Ultimately, though, this is an accomplished example from within a conventional form of solo work rather than one that breaks that mould. To paraphrase a hit during Domingo’s infancy by Philly group The Delfonics (who are barely even namechecked), he didn’t blow my mind this time.


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