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'Soul' Brother, 'Soul' Sister

By: Mark Blankenship
Date: Sep 14, 2009


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Colman Domingo can rest easy. No matter what New Yorkers think of his solo show A Boy and His Soul, now in previews at the Vineyard Theatre, he's already faced his most important critics: His family. Their reaction was key, since Domingo, best known for his performance in Passing Strange, portrays over half a dozen relatives in his autobiographical play. If they didn't like what they saw, he could have been banned from Thanksgiving.

Fortunately, he's gotten a thumbs up. "He got me down perfect," says Domingo's sister Averie, who's character in the play is outrageous and outspoken. "I was always sassy. Growing up with three brothers, and I was the only girl, I always had to come back at them with something."

Domingo's brother Rick hasn't seen the show, but he's coming to the Vineyard, and he's intrigued to see his brother's perspective on their west Philadelphia childhood. "I'm wondering if he'll remember the times he got us in trouble," he says. "He might not tell you about it, but he was sneaky."

Sadly, there are no stories about Colman the Troublemaker, but Domingo does include the night he came out to his brother in a strip club, the day he learned a major secret about his cousin, and the year his mother and stepfather passed away.
But he says the show isn't really about these stories. "I don't even think this play is about me," he adds.

 A Boy and His Soul is partly about responding to crisis. It's dramatizes Domingo's belief that the only way to survive hard times is to keep moving forward---to keep on living instead of wallowing in pain. "That's why when I wrote the script, I made sure that nobody's story 'wraps up' in the traditional way," he says. "Even dealing with the loss of my parents, that's not truly wrapped up. It's dealt with in one line, and then we move on. I couldn't live in a monologue about dealing with their loss. I can't live in that place of, 'Oh, I'm so sad. Look how terrible my life is.' We're all given these things in our lives, but what's important is what we do with them."

Domingo hopes this perspective will make his story universal, but he wants to do more than just tell tales. He also wants A Boy and His Soul  to succeed as a piece of theatre. That's why he uses techniques that are unusual for a solo show.

There are several scenes, for instance, where Domingo plays multiple characters at once. He might say one line as his mother, then interrupt himself as his sister, then pop in as his brother. Since he doesn't use costume pieces, he has to make those characters clear just by shifting his body and voice.

Sometimes, Domingo lets music tell the story instead of words. When Colman's stepfather thinks his son is too effeminate, he doesn't say a thing. Instead, James Brown's "It's a Man's World" blasts over the speakers.

"I want to make sure the music highlights the conflict without hitting you over the head," Domingo says. "And sometimes, a song speaks volumes beyond anything you'd want to say."
Mark Blankenship