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Company One’s ‘Boy Who Kissed the Sky’ mythologizes a young Jimi Hendrix’s experience

The cast of "The Boy Who Kissed the Sky," including Errol Service Jr. (third from right) as The Boy.Erin Crowley

In Idris Goodwin’s “The Boy Who Kissed the Sky,” a 12-year-old modeled on Jimi Hendrix is able to magically coax notes out of a broom, wielding and strumming it like a guitar.

Makes sense. When it came to music, there wasn’t much Hendrix couldn’t do.

I saw the rock legend in concert when I, too, was 12, and it landed on my adolescent psyche with seismic force. Compared with his onstage sorcery, the other rock stars I loved seemed like children playing with toys. Hendrix meant business.

The combination of his genius-level artistry, his early death at 27, and his enormous influence on the guitarists who followed him vaulted Hendrix to mythic status. And it is within the idiom of myth that Goodwin has chosen to explore his subject, with mixed results.


With “The Boy Who Kissed the Sky," directed by Summer L. Williams, Goodwin is partnering again with Company One Theatre. That collaboration has yielded gems like “Hype Man: a break beat play," which premiered at Company One five years ago, and “How We Got On," also directed by Williams and presented in 2013.

“The Boy Who Kissed the Sky" is not of their caliber. It lacks the cohesion of those earlier works, especially in its first half, when the play suffers from a certain aimlessness. Some scenes seem too short; others too long. A better balance is restored about midway through its 70-minute runtime. Goodwin’s focus sharpens, Williams is able to bring her directorial skills more fully to bear, and “Boy” becomes a more engrossing experience. What the playwright is after, he tells us in a note in his script, is not strict biography but rather the creation of “a psychedelic blues of the past” that deals “with feeling more than facts."

At the center of this play-with-music — composers Divinity Roxx and Eugene H. Russell IV make valuable contributions with a host of original songs — is a character identified only as The Boy. He’s played by Errol Service Jr., who artfully conveys a blend of loneliness, ambition, and unstoppable energy — the picture of a youth who is lost until he finds music.


The Boy’s mother, Donna (a graceful Yasmeen Duncan), has seemingly vanished from his life — he’s hoping for a visit from her — and his father, Mel (a too-tentative Cedric Lilly), is working hard to keep them afloat in the Seattle boardinghouse where they live. As a nosy but good-hearted neighbor who gives The Boy his first guitar, Kiera “Kee” Prusmack, is a treat.

The play is structured as a meditation on the musical and familial forces that shaped and inspired Hendrix, which requires a journey through time and space guided by a spirit called J. Sonic (an ebullient Martinez Napoleon). Attired in a silver jumpsuit and a translucent purple cape, J. Sonic sets out to show The Boy how to “learn a whole new way of speaking/Through the strings and vibrations."

Errol Service Jr. in Company One Theatre's "The Boy Who Kissed the Sky."Erin Crowley

That involves learning where he came from, literally. So J. Sonic takes The Boy on a tour of family history, back to 1910 at the Seattle Opera House, where his grandparents (Duncan and Lilly) are preparing for a vaudeville performance; to 1941, when his father is being drafted into service in World War II; and, a short time later, when his mother is pregnant with him. Along the way he gets to meet blues giants Muddy Waters and Koko Taylor.


Exceptional work is delivered by choreographer Victoria Lynn Awkward, by the three-piece band located upstage, and by the design team, including Danielle Delafuente (set), Christopher Brusberg (lighting), Danielle Domingue Sumi (costumes), and Rasean Davonté Johnson (projections), who conjures images of people and cars streaming through a busy city.

At a key juncture in the play, the visual environment is transformed into rippling waves of energy that creates a dreamlike effect.

That The Boy’s own dreams will come true, that he does indeed have a date with destiny, is communicated to him by his mother, who tells her son, in a remark that is both moving and prophetic: “You’re going to bring so much to this world."


Play by Idris Goodwin. Music by Divinity Roxx and Eugene H. Russell IV. Directed by Summer L. Williams. Music direction by David Freeman Coleman. Dramaturgy by afrikah selah. Presented by Company One Theatre in partnership with the City of Boston’s Office of Arts and Culture. At Strand Theatre, through Aug. 12. Tickets are “Pay-What-You-Want, with a $0 minimum.” 617-929-7110,

Don Aucoin can be reached at Follow him @GlobeAucoin.