The Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents their edgiest or more experimental plays in their Stiemke Theater…a very pliable and flexible black box theater. And as they re-open the Stiemke for the first time since the start of the pandemic with Antonio’s Song, they have stayed true to form.
Antonio’s Song, I Was Dreaming Of A Son, directed by Mark Clements (the Reps’ Artistic Director) describes one man’s journey from there to here. There being a Brooklyn of ethic enclaves to a life in arts with the family that he dreamed of and struggled to achieve. And the one man is Antonio Edwards Suarez who co-wrote the play with Dael Orlandersmith (playwright and performer in Before The Flood, presented at the Rep in the spring of 2018), and is the solo actor presenting his memoir on stage.
So Antonio’s struggles lead us through too many of the unsolved ills of American society…racism, comprehensive health care, sexism, mental health issues, family dysfunction, child abuse, and the lack of a positive supportive community. That is the path connecting the there and here.
So where is the there really? It is Brooklyn and the young Antonio plays a very delicate balancing game between his peers from his two ethnic backgrounds…some days are spent with his Black friends and the alternate days with his Hispanic friends. And of course he is vilified at time or another by the one group, then the other, for hanging out with the opposite group…and he sometimes craters to peer pressure to participate in the activities of a street tough. And built over all of that is the base of his own dysfunctional family…although he has a physically present father and mother…they aren’t necessarily the supportive family unit we’ve been told is normal.
And what are the flash points or turning points the get him from there to here? Well his best friend who never abandons him and finally convinces him that he is best served by listening to himself and being himself. A chance television program that features a ballet performance featuring master dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov…which initially opens his soul to an awareness of arts that speaks directly to Antonio. And finally when he is accepted into Harvard, seeing for the first time in the story, his father stand up to his mother in favor of his going off to school. A startling revelation after years of everyone avoiding any confrontations.
But this isn’t a recitation of a story, but is presented via a fluid movement of body and soul across the stage as the story unfolds. And the answers slowly evolve but they often seem to be written in the palm of Antonio’s hand. And as Antonio dances across the stage or mimics the motions described in his stories, the backdrop sets the place. As we move through time and across space, projected images give us the streets of Brooklyn, the Atlantic Ocean, the industrial space that is Antonio’s studio, and the dark smoke filled rooms of his childhood home. Quite effective and a bit mesmerizing…at times distracting from Antonio’s ‘dance’.
Antonio’s Song, I Was Dreaming Of A Son continues through March 6, 2022. It does contain some adult language and situations with the Rep recommending it for ages 16 and over. COVID safety protocols are in place including presenting proof of vaccination or a negative test and wearing a mask while in the building. Latest COVID information is here.
Extra credit reading!