Antonio, the protagonist in “Antonio’s Song/ I Was Dreaming of a Son,” is Black, Hispanic, Brooklyn-born, a husband and a parent. He also is a writer. In between teaching, endless staff meetings and the demands of parenthood, he carves out a little time for himself to create in a studio. Within this sanctuary, he listens to music, often the same tune, again and again, in order to capture its movement in dance and words. This is Antonio’s precious time, his alone time and as much as he loves being a father, he is not happy having to share this time with his five-year-old son who was dropped off by his wife at the last moment. It is out of this frustration that Antonio makes a horrible mistake. He slaps his son several times while calling him hateful names. The rest of the one-man show explains how this mistake came to be.
Performed in Goodman’s intimate 350-seat Owen Theater by Antonio Edwards Suarez (who, along with Dael Orlandersmith, co-wrote the play), “Antonio’s Song/ I Was Dreaming of a Son” is an incredibly powerful meditation on identity. Through a careful blend of poetry and dance, we come to realize the epic currents that shaped Antonio’s childhood. It is a childhood spent learning the movements of whichever group he was in with special care given so that his Black and Hispanic friends never saw him with the other. Looking back, Antonio realizes that while he himself is not fatherless, he nonetheless is the end point of a long line of fatherless men who proudly roamed the streets of Brooklyn. Out of necessity these men learned to use their hands both to create (Antonio’s father loved to whittle) and also to destroy (he sold guns to hoodlums). The women in young Antonio’s life were hard too; his own mother a chain smoker who insisted on bathing him much longer than is healthy. When told later that he wants to study ballet, his mom replied it “will make everybody think, really think you’re a faggot.” This is the world to which he was born.
That Antonio is able to pull away from this violence to become an artist is remarkable. It does not, though, excuse Antonio from the terrible abuse he inflicted upon his son. Antonio Edwards Suarez’s career-defining performance, however, propels his character toward a cathartic ending where redemption is at least possible. There is hope here that Antonio’s son is not doomed to lead a fatherless existence. Director Mark Clements’ deliberate pacing allows the space for this to be accomplished with his use of projection, which adds a layered look to the production. While not always easily digestible, this is a raw presentation that never compromises its integrity.
“Antonio’s Song/ I Was Dreaming of a Son” at Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, (312)443-3800, goodmantheatre.org, $15-$50. Through May 28.