Written by Domingo — and performed by him in various productions, from its 2005 premiere at San Francisco’s Thick Description to a 2014 staging in Australia — “A Boy and His Soul” depicts a hustling, 30-something version of the performer as he recalls sifting through the soul records at his soon-to-be-sold childhood home. But when Bethesda’s Round House Theatre expressed interest in mounting a filmed revival of the play, Domingo decided the time had come for him to pass on his past.
“To be very honest with you, I was asked to do this production — of course I was,” Domingo says. “You know, it’s very seductive for me to do this show. But I felt like my career, myself, my experience — everything has changed in such a drastic way that I felt it would be false, me being the struggling actor. I always knew it would live in a stronger incarnation with another actor taking on the character.”
Thus Ro Boddie was cast in Round House’s production, which starts streaming March 22. The up-tempo narrative tunes Domingo’s youthful misadventures, coming-out story and farewell to his parents to the soundtrack of his adolescence: Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Rick James and the like. In approving both the casting of Boddie as the protagonist, Jay (short for Jason, Domingo’s middle name), and the choice of Craig Wallace as director, Domingo trusted them not just with his own story but the portrayal of his siblings and late parents, who also appear as characters throughout the one-man show.
Speaking earlier this month via video chat from Los Angeles, Domingo opened up on the origins of the play and the decision to embrace new voices, as well as the awards-season admiration for “Ma Rainey,” which just received five Oscar nominations.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You began writing this play in the early 2000s. What was the original spark that led you to pursue the idea?
A: I was a working actor who also had a part-time job as a bartender in New York, and during the slow times at the bar, which is usually between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., I created. I didn’t know what it was, but I was just writing about what I was going through. The genesis was really having to deal with both of my parents’ illnesses and selling our childhood home and going down there and finding hundreds of albums that were left behind. And in those albums, I thought that these were our stories — they literally were our records of our lives.
Q: When you were writing, did you only envision yourself in the play or had you always imagined passing the torch to other actors?
A: I had. I mean, it’s a tour de force — it truly is. I had written something that requires you to do everything. Sometimes you’re playing five characters at once, and you’re dancing, you’re listening to music, you’re listening for cues — there’s a lot going on there. At some point, I thought: “I’m going to be too old to do this. This is for a young man — this isn’t for somebody who’s 51 years old!” I’m joking, because I’m sure I could do it. But I just felt like it would resonate more with someone who’s in their mid-30s.
Q: Seven years passed between your last performance of the play and this winter, when both Round House and Louisville's Pandora Productions filmed versions with new actors. What made now the right time to revisit the story?
A: People have been asking for years to do productions of this, and I think they finally got it out of their head that it had to be me in it. I just kept pushing back. I was like, “No, no, no, trust the story, trust what’s written.” So I think that we found this incredibly talented actor, Ro, and he’s a beautiful artist, and he carries a lot. I’m so excited to see someone else play the character of Jay. I didn’t name him Colman because I wanted it to be a character. It’s exciting to watch someone else just take it on and say [to them], “Hey, tell my story to tell your story.”
Q: How do you hope actors playing Jay balance the urge to specifically evoke you with the idea of making the character their own?
A: It’s very tricky. Because when people think, “Oh, the character is a young, gay, Black male,” I think that sometimes they go immediately for a trope. All colors of being gay are wonderful, but I think this particular young man, he’s a nerd, he’s self-deprecating, he’s fiercely intelligent and curious, a little precocious, and he’s just kind of an average guy. I feel like I’m such a boring gay guy! I can dress well and things like that, but I’m not fabulous. So I think it’s very interesting to sort of break with tropes of what people may think I am and to challenge that.
Q: What has it meant to see the widespread recognition for "Ma Rainey" and, in particular, the love for Chadwick Boseman's final performance?
A: It’s been really, really beautiful, and it’s been bittersweet at the same time. I never imagined I would be doing this press tour without Chad. It didn’t make sense. It’s still surprising that he’s not with us. But I’m really proud of what we’ve created, what we’ve made, and the response that it’s been getting. I’m embracing all of it because a lot of times, the work that you do, it’s not amplified. So these award nominations and being feted is a beautiful thing, especially for something that you care so deeply about.
A Boy and His Soul
Round House Theatre. roundhousetheatre.org.
Dates: March 22 through April 18.