The San Francisco Bay Area has long celebrated the unforgettable theatrical performances of Colman Domingo.
In recent years, he starred off-Broadway in the 2012 revival of Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot, directed by the author.
He was nominated for a 2011 Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role for his performance as Mr. Bones in The Scottsboro Boys, having already been seen on Broadway in Chicago (as Billy Flynn), Well, and Passing Strange (OBIE Award for Best Ensemble), for which he also received a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for the run at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
In 2010, he received a 2010 Lucille Lortel Outstanding Solo Performance Award, GLAAD Media Award (Best New York Theater), and Drama Desk and Drama League nominations for his self-penned play A Boy and His Soul, which he premiered in San Francisco.
The east coast native and former Bay Area resident has worked his way into becoming a top billed talent, building upon a versatile acting career that has landed him roles for acclaimed filmmakers Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Spike Lee (Red Hook Summer) and Lee Daniels (The Butler), among others.
Tall, handsome and provocative, he gets all the credit for a kaleidoscopic onstage production, WILD with HAPPY, Domingo’s pseudo introspective play that he wrote and stars in for TheatreWorks at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, now running through June
WILD with HAPPY presents a complex view of life and death, taking the happy road to reminiscing.
Domingo stars as Gil alongside Sharon Washington, Duane Boutte, and Richard Prioleau, whose eventful journey back-and-forward in time, usher audiences into a trip down fairytale lane.
Gil has returned from New York City to his home in Philadelphia to make arrangements for his mother’s funeral. His return brings back memories of his childhood, as he and his Aunt Glo sort through his mother’s things and spar over how to handle her memorial. Gil goes to the funeral home where, despite family tradition, he opts for cremation.
He also falls for the funeral director, Terry. When Gil’s flamboyant friend Mo arrives from New York, he “kidnaps” Gil and takes him on a road trip to help him come to terms with his loss. Pursued by Aunt Glo and Terry, they finally arrive at the place where Gil’s mother was most happy.
We spoke the day after a standing ovation weekend–
WILD WITH HAPPY is an energetic presentation…where does the energy come from?
Domingo: I truly believe it’s something that I’ve always had…I’m assuming that it just comes from God. Apparently God gave me a couple more scoops of energy than other people because I’m able to operate on many cylinders at one time (laughter). When you’re doing what you love and you’ve been so blessed to have opportunity to do everything you really love, my whole day is always filled with exactly what I want to do. I have time for myself, loved ones and creative projects, it’s all a blessing.
This play covers a lot of territory, emotionally. It would appear that you communicated things that you “had” to say, not just “wanted” to say. Were you driven in any particular way to tell this story?
Domingo: I was. This story began with my first 30 pages a couple of years ago with just a few ideas: I wanted to explore mother-son relationships especially after the mother is gone and particularly gay men and their mothers. I was having conversations with many friends about the healing process following death of a loved one. I’m 43 years old and many friends lose their mothers; the bond that is broken is compounded when they can’t deal with it, it’s too overwhelming or whether they lean into it. I am a person who sort of leaned into my healing process. People kept looking at me and saying, ‘you’ve been OK. How did you do it? You seem to be happy, whole and your heart is even more open.’ I know I just had a lot of love and support and knew that I and my mother were good. The last words she said were, “I love you and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” There was nothing left unsaid.
Conversely, I’ve many friends who have had difficult processes and did certain things that were self-destructive; they didn’t let any light into their lives so everything else starting closing in around them. That’s when I started to write it (the play) for them, from that perspective. I took some of my own experiences but turned it around.
I also wanted to develop a character who was lacking in hope whether that means faith, believing in something, whether it’s spiritual or whether it’s magical, in establishing the characters, I was trying to touch on cynicism, sometimes like the people who come to the with arms folded. They may not believe in anything anymore or believe in magic anymore. At the start of the play, I layer with big heaping doses, very aware of what I am doing towards the end of the play. I want it to get sugary and sweet and see if you can deny yourself, indulge in this magic to believe and to experience again, have faith again.
All my stories have lessons about being hopeful and to believe again and I realize that I’m interested in stories about home. Trying to find home again and what does that look like. We may not know what it looks like but by the end of the play there is a deconstructed Cinderella.
Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer centered on the subject of child molestation among clergy. I liken your performance to the role Viola Davis portrayed in Doubt– for which she received an Oscar nomination—brief, with high impact. Given Lee’s style of multiple messages strewn throughout his films, your role helped to connect the dots of a remorseful preacher and grandfather– now redeemed –who had defiled innocent youths in earlier years. Your role was brief but oh so pivotal.
In the way that you took that ounce of role and turned it into a transformative and powerful scene, did you have to work hard to condense ranges of emotion into that complex interpretation?
Domingo: Wow, initially I had a meeting with Spike Lee; we met at a diner near Union Square in New York. He said to me, “Colman, I want to show you something, read this.” I read the treatment, I didn’t read the script and he took it back from me. I said, ‘so what are you thinking?’ He said, “I want you to play one of the roles in this. I want you to play Blessing Rowe… I think you’re going to kill it.” I said, ‘OK.’
Lee continued, ‘so I want you to really start thinking about this, thinking about this character, doing your work, do what you do.’
He gave me free will. I started to research focusing on the life after child molestation; this was during the time of the Eddie Long situation in Atlanta involving numerous young men. My heart was so broken. This one line came to me and Spike Lee allowed me to add it to RED HOOK SUMMER, which was, “you took my faith.”
Lincoln, the film, received two Oscars and scores of nominations. It was also well received at the box office. What are your reflections of that historical account [on film] given your role as enlisted soldier, Private Harold Green?
Domingo: That was a fantastic part of the story. I was blessed and humbled…I think there was a total of only five to seven African American speaking roles in the film and for whatever reason, the way the story unfolded, I had one of those speaking roles. It was told to me by friends and associates, ‘Colman, you were given the voice of many people so honor the role in that way and ground yourself in that way…whatever moments, if it’s just opening shots of you fighting in battle and presenting us with the President, you have such a responsibility in this film.’ So, I understood that. But I always know it’s never just about me. Hopefully my work will always be used as a writer or performer or in whatever way, it’s not about me. It’s about me giving of myself to tell a story and as performers that is what we’re supposed to do; it’s not about ourselves.
You are cast in one of the most anticipated films of the year, The Butler, with Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, Oscar nominee Terrence Howard and TV titan, Oprah Winfrey. Butler is the Lee Daniels directed biopic of an African American chief servant who served in the White House for several US Presidents. Share your experiences with Daniels, known for creating a most interesting film set.
Domingo: That’s my buddy– I love him, I respect him, he’s wild and brilliant and he pushes you to work. He pushes you out of your comfort zone to get what he needs from you as an actor. I’ve seen a few early clips of the film and I think everyone cast in it raises the bar on their own work. I’m very blessed to be a part of this; it’s going to be exciting. It’s a thrilling cast and gives voice to the under sung. I feel so privileged to be part of that… part of the work, I’m so grateful.