Ultimately, Round House Theatre’s production of “A Boy and His Soul” is a very feel-good show. Its tight focus is on one Black family on Philadelphia’s southwest side and their bonds, as told through the soundtracks of their lives.
This is a graceful, nostalgic show about growing up to be a strong Black man, with a soundtrack that showers the theatre with love.
The catalyst in Colman Domingo’s script occurs when we meet our protagonist, Jay (a heartfelt and ebullient Ro Boddie), as he is descending the basement stairs of his parents’ home. He is getting ready to clean out the basement in preparation for putting the house up for sale. His parents have retired “down South” — to Virginia.
We start in the 1970s and move through the 2000s, all backed by a soundtrack of the soul greats — Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind & Fire, Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass, Lou Rawls, Michael Jackson, Prince, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Temptations, and so many others. It’s a tour of classic soul, R&B, and disco. It’s omnipresent and comforting.
This show is, at heart, a love story for a family with a mother and stepfather who teach their kids how love lifts us up. It is also a love story for a neighborhood and a city and a love story for all Black people everywhere. As Domingo’s script moves through the years, Boddie plays the different characters — some very funny. More importantly, between the music and the portrayals, we see the love that grounded this family and kept them moving forward. We hear about the love that forms the foundation of Jay as he grows up and accepts himself as a gay Black man. His family enfolds him in that love like a suit of armor. He clearly listens to his mother’s words about letting the music stay in his heart and guide him as he makes his way in the world.
The script paints lovely word pictures of the people in Jay’s life. The portrayal of his sister is pure genius. It also stays tightly focused on the family and their shared history. The play paints a rather nostalgic glow that softens any hard edges life might have thrown at this family.
Scenic designer Paige Hathaway has done a masterful job at creating the basement that is the main set. I don’t know where the props master, Kasey Henricks, found all those classic album covers, but what a feat. Lighting designer Harold F. Burgess II envelops the stage in a golden glow. Even when a trying moment is at hand, between the music and the warm light, it feels cocooned.
Director Craig Wallace gives the script as much depth as he can, keeping the focus on the trip down memory lane and basking in the love among these people. Maboud Ebr Ahimzadeh is the director of photography and editor.
This is a graceful, nostalgic show about growing up to be a strong Black man, with a soundtrack that showers the theatre with love. It’s a calm and comforting beginning to Round House Theatre’s 2021 season.
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes without intermission.
Show Advisory: Adult language, sexual references, references to drinking alcohol and smoking.
“A Boy and His Soul” runs through April 25, 2021. This production is being pre-recorded and presented virtually through on-demand streaming by Round House Theatre in Bethesda, MD. For more information, please click here.