Black, Latino and Poor in America

Rep’s one man show, ‘Antonio’s Song,’ is a powerful memoir play that includes audience discussion.

By - Jan 31st, 2022 01:31 pm
Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Antonio’s Song/I Was Dreaming of a Son in the Stiemke Studio January 26 – March 6, 2022. Pictured: Antonio Edwards Suarez. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Antonio’s Song/I Was Dreaming of a Son in the Stiemke Studio January 26 – March 6, 2022. Pictured: Antonio Edwards Suarez. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

The production at the Stiemke Studio through March 6 represents the longest gestation period on record for the Milwaukee Rep, according to its director and the company’s artistic leader, Mark Clements. Even more amazing it is a one-person play – but that person was worth waiting more than two years to see perform, Antonio Edwards Suarez.

COVID-19 of course caused the delay – and in theater promises sometimes create too much anticipation. The title alone is too heady a mouthful for the occasion – Antonio’s Song: I Was Dreaming of a Son. Sounds like a Russian opus when in fact it is a 70-minute memory monologue about a self-described short Latino growing up in Brooklyn and becoming a father and an artist.

The most powerful thrusts and lyrical insights come from exploring the machismo games and the masculine hardness imposed on Black and Latino young men, the confusion of their identities (are they Black or brown or both?) and worries about what even the more aware grownup (now a father) will pass along to his children if he loses his temper.

Those themes mean the second act for the play is the audience, gathered in groups in the lobby to discuss the themes and led from the stage each show by a different speaker – opening night it was Milwaukee County’s leading counsel on domestic violence and family behavior, De’Shawn Ewing.

The script is co-written with Dael Orlandersmith whose other plays the Rep has done and will do – and she is writer attuned to racial issues worth listening to. The set is fairly simple but beautifully designed — a center roundtable to sit on and panels for extensive rear projections, suggesting the ghosts of Antonio’s past, the clouds and oceans as well as the tenement streets – and even one of his future inspirations, Mikhail Baryshnikov. The choice of music is also evocative.

There are few actors who can move, dance and act like Suarez. He could incorporate those skills into master classes in acting and feeling, in conjuring an entire life with simple word portraits and momentous twists of his body and general fluidity. Suarez paints insights with his palms. Other characters live in his shoulders. Emotions emanate from the lift of his arms or clutching his own chest. A street festival of dance comes alive as he rotates on the simple platform.

It is almost a disservice to a special disciplined talent to point out that the monologue tries to leap from Antonio’s life on the streets through his arrival at Harvard – and at that point the story staggers. His memoirs and the family he speaks of seem pale echoes of a well-worn literary tradition of stories about characters growing up poor and making it.

The revelations may be too familiar, but the pace is always crisp for a one-man show, Suarez is worth watching and the images created by the technical staff are fascinating. If only the last 15 minutes hadn’t brought the magic down. The production is co-produced with the Rep by the Contemporary American Theater Festival.

Dominique Paul Noth served for decades as film and drama critic, later senior editor for features at the Milwaukee Journal. You’ll find his blog here and here.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us