“Stop trying to be what everyone else wants you to be, man. Just be you.” Antonio Edwards Suarez recounts that his childhood best friend, Curtis, said to him growing up. This sentiment becomes in many ways the mantra for ANTONIO’S SONG: It’s a deeply human exploration of identity — and specifically Suarez’s identity — and all the elements that make us who we are. In ANTONIO’S SONG, Suarez and co-playwright Dael Orlandersmith share vignettes from Suarez’s upbringing that reflect the complexities of his identity. This is a touching, if not groundbreaking, solo show. Ultimately, theater reflects our humanity, and ANTONIO’S SONG reinforces that we turn to art to better understand ourselves. Structurally and thematically, this is well-trod territory.
But it’s the specifics of Suarez’s story and some of the unique production choices that give ANTONIO’S SONG emotion and humanity. With direction by Mark Clements and movement direction by Alexandra Beller, ANTONIO’S SONG uses Suarez’s passion for dance as a vital storytelling method. Suarez flits around the open playing space, incorporating elements of dance and fluid movement into his performance persona. I was particularly charmed by how the movement and dance in the show echoes Suarez’s teenage fascination with renowned ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. This, in turn, becomes a neat microcosm for Suarez’s exploration of his gender identity; his father encourages his love of dance, while his mother warns that he’ll be perceived as a “faggot” should he choose to pursue it further. Suarez and Orlandersmith use many such moments from Suarez’s life to represent his multifaceted identity. He explores the tension between being Black and Latin, and he also recounts moments where he acts with extreme, stereotypically male violence contrasted with his love of dance and art.
The sparse staging is a strong production choice. Luciana Stecconi’s sparsely populated set design makes way for Jared Mezzocchi’s projections and John Ambrosone’s lighting to be some of the main visual cues to set the tone. And while some vignettes overstay their welcome, Suarez is an engaging and vital performer even without props to help him tell his story.
ANTONIO’S SONG succeeds most in pulling together all these threads to demonstrate that Suarez’s identity is not just one thing. By playing to the specifics of what that means for Suarez, the play also arrives at a universality: None of us are just one thing, so how do we learn to reconcile all of the elements that make us us?
ANTONIO’S SONG/I WAS DREAMING OF A SON runs through May 28, 2023 in the Owen Theatre at Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org for tickets.
Photo Credit: Liz Lauren
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com