The Brothers’ Network Inc. , a Philadelphia-based racial-justice nonprofit organization of diverse African-American men, is producing a special benefit performance of “A Boy and His Soul,” the one-man show by out actor, playwright and Philadelphia native Colman Domingo, 8 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Red Room of the Society Hill Playhouse.
Domingo is best known for his award-winning work on Broadway in productions such as “The Scottsboro Boys” and “Passing Strange.” He has also appeared on the big and small screen, starring in Spike Lee’s film adaptation of “Passing Strange” and Logo’s “The Big Gay Sketch Show.”
In Domingo’s critically lauded and autobiographical one-man show, he explores his upbringing in West Philadelphia during the 1970s, portraying a diverse array of characters from his life as well as himself as a 6-year-old.
Having done heavy dramas and lighthearted comedies over the course of his career, Domingo said that “A Boy and His Soul” is “right on the line” between the two extremes.
“It’s outrageously funny but there’s a lot of heart underneath,” he said. “It’s a family story, it’s a neighborhood story and it’s a second coming-of-age story. Within that lies a wild comedy and some tragedy as well.”
Domingo added that while the show is set mostly in the ’70s, it’s not necessarily a nostalgia trip.
“As a 41-year-old man, for me, it was less nostalgic of the 1970s and more of taking a look back to know where I’m going,” he said. “When I talk about a second coming of age, it’s like when you step into another form of adulthood where you are taking care of aging parents and dealing with things like that. You’re no one’s son anymore. It’s taking a look back to where you come from. I come from early to mid-1970s Philadelphia. There’s so much rooted in that. So for me, that’s become part of the nostalgia but it’s not just that. It’s about who I am today.”
Domingo wrote “A Boy and His Soul” as part of his mission to enlighten audiences about the complexity of African-American existence — and said he looks for that level of complexity in the roles he pursues.
“I’m looking for an exceptional complex role, whether that’s a comedy, drama or Shakespeare,” he said. “I’m looking for the quality of character and something that truly speaks to me. I want something I can look back and be proud of. I believe that every decision I’ve made as an actor is something I can be proud of, with whatever messages they were trying to convey and things that will stir people up in some way and hold up a mirror to who we are.”
He added that if a role reads as inauthentic, he’d rather not go for it at all.
“I remember I went out for this role on ‘Nash Bridges,’ the character was called Cool Whip Tyrell,” he said. “It was as if someone was hungry when they were creating this name. I was like, wait a minute. I come from inner-city West Philadelphia: I’ve never heard of a person named Cool Whip Tyrell. This can’t be written by someone who knows these people. So I left that audition. It wasn’t for me. As an African-American man you will play your share of etcetera, etcetera. But hopefully the thugs or the criminal I may come across will have a bit more dimension and complexity than a one-dimensional stereotype.”
Domingo said that while quality roles for African-American actors are difficult to find, it is even more rare to find well-rounded portrayals of gay and lesbian people of color on stage and screen.
“I think we still have yet to see fully developed African-American gay and lesbian characters whether on stage or television,” he said. “I think that’s what inspired me to be a writer as well, because I wanted to tell other stories that I believe are part of who we are and to give more complexity than a stereotype. Sometimes African-American gay and lesbian characters are either over-sexualized or they’re overtly fey or caricatures. They don’t completely represent all that we are. Some African-American colleagues of mine have not gone deeper into creating complex images of representations of who we are, as well as my white colleagues. We’re making slow strides. It’s nice to see that these roles are more visible. I’d just like to see more complexity.”
Given that sentiment, we had to ask Domingo how he felt about the Logo network canceling “The Big Gay Sketch Show” and devoting more time to reality TV shows like “The A-List” series.
“I think it’s just a shame that the representations of gay men — and this is something produced by Logo — that we’re marginalized to being bitchy queens, which is why I don’t watch the show,” he said. “I had no sadness when ‘The Big Gay Sketch Show’ was taken off. It just didn’t seem to fit with where Logo was going. There’s no love lost from that.”
Domingo has enough on his plate as a writer and actor without “The Big Gay Sketch Show.” He is currently really excited about a new stage show he’s working on, “Wild With Happy.”
“It’s a satire about death and Disney World,” he said. “It’s a follow up to ‘A Boy and His Soul.’ This is my first play that is not about me, but there are some meta-theatrical references. There is a 40-year-old actor that loses his mother and he cremates her ashes and takes her to Disney World. I did not do those things. I did lose my mother and I am an actor, but I’m raising a lot of questions about belief and tradition and all the bizarre and surreal things that happen around dealing with death and trying to heal and trying to find what is the right thing to do.”
Domingo performs “A Boy and His Soul,” a benefit for the Human Rights Campaign, 8 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Red Room of the Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. Eighth St. For information on The Brothers’ Network, visit www.thebrothersnetwork.org. For further information or tickets, visit www.societyhillplayhouse.org or www.colmandomingo.com.