Colman Domingo, the actor and writer, lifts them out of the musty corners of his west Philadelphia childhood in “A Boy and His Soul,” an affectionate and aurally atmospheric one-man memory play. Produced online by Round House Theatre and featuring a winning performance by Ro Boddie, the 75-minute piece grooves warmly to the music it celebrates: the soul, R&B and disco of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
The recording artists name- and sound-checked in director Craig Wallace’s vivid production on the Round House stage echo out of the pantheon. I mean, how wrong could you go with an audio track that plays Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin and the Commodores? If you’re in the mood for a journey that cruises at a smooth altitude and comes to a soft landing, “A Boy and His Soul” is just the ticket.
Viewed on a laptop, the piece does lose some significant quantity of emotional energy. It’s so clearly built for the communal uplift that occurs only when an audience is sharing space with a performer that the digital remove becomes an impediment. From time to time, you hear the film crew laughing at some line or bit of cunning impersonation Boddie executes; the theater notes that covid-19 protocols at the time of filming denied audience access. That is too bad. A year into the shutdown, one’s finger on the keyboard pause button gets itchier by the day.
“A Boy and His Soul” presses other buttons, corresponding to the coming-of-age stories of American kids in financially struggling, loving families.
“Keep a song in your heart and you’ll always find your way” is the mantra of Domingo’s mom, a housekeeper raising three young children. A big-hearted stepdad enters the picture, a proud Black man who manages to make a stepson feel accepted even after he comes out as gay. On Paige Hathaway’s set of an artifact-filled basement, Boddie, playing “Jay” — short for Domingo’s middle name, Jason — portrays them all, and others. Flamboyant cousins whom Jay runs into at gay bars and aunts who roll their eyes and fold their arms judgmentally at the slightest whiff of family scandal make cameo appearances.
A lot of “A Boy and His Soul” is ruminative; the sound design, courtesy of Matthew M. Nielson, pipes in Earth Wind & Fire and Van McCoy singing “Do the hustle!” as Boddie recounts the events of Jay’s youth: “Barbecues, block parties, family reunions and car trips down South.” The dramas here aren’t operatic. They’re of a more modest variety, on the comforting scale of the vintage sitcoms Jay conjures. Maybe this reflection of once-upon-a-time normality is the kind of soothing accompaniment we need right now.
A Boy and His Soul, by Colman Domingo. Directed by Craig Wallace. Set, Paige Hathaway; costume, Ivania Stack; lighting, Harold F. Burgess II; sound, Matthew M. Nielson. About 75 minutes. $32.50. Streaming through April 18 at roundhousetheatre.org.