Antonio Edwards Suarez tells the story of his Latino/Black/Irish family in 80 poetic and emotional minutes of story and dance. The one-man play—Antonio’s Song / I Was Dreaming of a Son, cowritten with Dael Orlandersmith—begins and ends with that boy, his 5-year-old son.
The play is now on stage at Goodman Theatre, directed by Mark Clements, artistic director of Milwaukee Repertory Theater, where the production originated. The performance is on an almost-bare set enriched with projected images (projection design by Jared Mezzocchi) that illustrate the geography of Suarez’ life. (Set design by Luciana Stecconi.)
Suarez, now an actor, dancer and teacher, began life as a poor mixed-race boy in Bushwick Brooklyn. His father, Black and Latino, sold guns for a living and carved masks out of wood; he suffered from sickle cell anemia and ulcers. His mother, boriqua (Puerto Rican) and irish; childhood polio left her with one leg in a brace. His younger sister, Pinky, had to prove she was Black enough and that she was boriqua, because “she could pass for white.” His father was supportive of Antonio’s dreams while his mother just wanted him to get a job and bring money home. Suarez as a boy recognized the nature of his Black/brown heritage. He had his Black corner boys and his Latin corner boys and divided his nights on the street between them.
Nicknamed Flaco (skinny), he comments several times that he’s short. One night, home alone, he turns the TV on to channel 13 and sees a muscular blond man dancing. “He’s wearing tights … he’s almost feminine … but also strong, masculine.” He’s jumping, leaping into the air—and Flaco, this short skinny kid, begins to move with him. “He’s jumping, leaping—“it’s almost as if he was AIR itself. He and air/space/time became one.”
The dancer was Mikhail Baryshnikov. Antonio went to the library the next day to learn more about him. He saw an interview with the dancer in which Baryshnikov said he loves all forms of dance—and the host describes him as “a citizen of the world.” Antonio’s mind is opened to a new reality and his life is never the same. He finds his way to college and graduate school (an MFA in acting at Harvard) and studies dance and movement with several different teachers.
His life on the street was punctuated with violence. And violence still comes to the surface. As the play begins, he relates a moment when he becomes frustrated with his son—“just a baby”—for interrupting his work time. He slaps the child, more than once—and later relates the story to his wife, who says nothing, but “says it all with her eyes.”
The theme and refrain of Antonio’s Song is, “What does it mean to be A FATHER? What does it mean to be a son? What does it mean to be a MAN? A man/child of color?” And, “Brooklyn. The Brooklyn ghosts are with me. They’re ALWAYS with me ….” The play ends with Antonio’s blessing for his son.
Suarez performs his memories with movement, sometimes almost classically choreographed, sometimes contemporary and physical. His arm movements also speak his song and are an integral part of his movement work. Suarez is rarely still and moves from the floor to dance on the large round bench that is the only piece of furniture on stage. The blend of words and movement is eloquent.
Movement direction is by Alexandra Beller. Sound design is by Andre J. Pluess and lighting by John Ambrosone. This production was staged in early 2022 at Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
Antonio’s Song / I Was Dreaming of a Son continues at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., through May 28. Running time is 80 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $15-$50 and are available online or by calling 312-443-3800.
For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.