With everything that’s happened over the past year, it’s important to have a song in your heart these days, and try to find things that make you happy. And for theatre fans, that’s been difficult since Covid-19 shut down live performances.
Written by Tony-award-nominated actor Colman Domingo (“The Scottsboro Boys”) back in 2009, the play is based on his own life and experiences being raised along with his two siblings by his housekeeper mom and the events of his childhood and rise to adulthood.
Ro Boddie stars as Jay, who returns to his childhood home to remove the clutter as it prepares to be sold, and takes us down memory lane.
The one-man show opens with Jay walking down the basement stairs in the dark, curiously looking around the room. He finds an old record sleeve and laughs when he discovers an old-time record player that still works.
“My parents were selling the house I grew up in,” he discloses to the audience, beginning his story of growing up in West Philadelphia.
He remembers the words of his mom: “Keep a song in your heart, and you will always find your way” and we learn throughout the show how important music was to his life and how the soul of the artists and songs helped him discover who he was and come out of the closet to his family.
Boddie is sensational as he embodies the voice and body language of each of his relatives, and the remembrances of conversations are both equally amusing and touching. For instance, two fingers raised in a tight V denotes sassy big sister Averie, a stern deep voice embodies his proud step-dad, while folding his arms represents his judgmental aunts.
When Jay finally comes out, choosing his macho brother Rick as the recipient to the news, the scene is unexpectedly tender. The ensuing phone chain with his sister, mom and step-dad brings both laughs and tears, culminating with James Brown’s classic, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s world.”
Filmed at the Round House Theatre between March 2-4, with only the crew in the audience, “A Boy and His Soul” does miss having that live connection, with beats where laughter should be sometimes evident, though Boddie works through it all effortlessly.
Director Craig Wallace understands the pacing needed and has his actor deftly work the stage, with the drama intensified by the way Boddie works the room and utilizes the props that serve as his memories.
Scenic designer Paige Hathaway delivers a very believable basement, with the remnants of yesteryear, such as the old Christmas tree, a cracked disco ball, stacks of dusty old crates, and of course, the stereo and boxes of records. Sound designer Matthew Nielson brings those records to life at the perfect moments, keeping the soul running throughout the play.
At one point, Jay’s step-dad tells him “love is love” and that’s a message that is deeply rooted in his family and this story. “A Boy and His Soul” is a real treat and just what’s needed for those missing the theatre.
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