Soft and Hard Edges Define New Work Antonio's Song / I Was Dreaming of a Son


Antonio Edwards Suarez. Photo by Seth Freeman.

Antonio Edwards Suarez fell in love with dance in the living room with his mother,
on the streets of his gritty Brooklyn neighborhood after seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov
dance with the Moscow Ballet on television. Suarez eventually danced his way
around the world, but no matter how far from home he traveled, there were parts
of Brooklyn that never left him—even when he needed them to. An incident with
his son highlighted this for him and began his journey to questioning all he had
been taught about race and masculinity in the midst of poverty. Suarez shares his
journey through manhood and art in Antonio’s Song, playing at Milwaukee Rep’s
Stiemke Studio, March 24-April 5.

The script, co-written with Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith who wrote
and starred in Milwaukee Rep’s 2018 production Until the Flood, is a series of
memory vignettes underscored by the songs that shaped Suarez’s life. Here, Suarez
reflects on fatherhood, art and healing childhood wounds in his new one-man
show.

Antonio Edwards Suarez. Photo by Seth Freeman.

What inspired you to write this piece?
Antonio’s Song was bubbling inside of me before my son was born because this
question of what it means to be a man had been bubbling inside of me for years
and years, and it still is. I had an interaction with my son that made me question
why I’m interacting this way with this boy who did not grow up the same way that
I did and hasn’t had the same experiences as me? That really started me on a
journey to ask how do I do this differently. I have a good friend who I started to
write the piece with and then we got in touch with Dael and the piece developed
from there.

The action of the script is triggered by you yelling at and spanking your then five-
year-old son in frustration the way that your mother beat you. Were you scared of
judgment?

Absolutely. In my journey to try to better myself, to put that out there is going to
bring judgement and that scared me and it still scares me. As I’ve put it out there,
I’ve had many people tell me I understand that moment, I have done that or I’ve
come close to doing that. That lets me know that the piece has a universal quality
to it and that’s helped me to start alleviating that fear.

Let’s talk about hardness and softness. You explore black Latino identity in the
piece, reflecting on the internal tug-of-war of trying to be black enough and
Spanish enough. Talk to me about that.

Growing up, anything soft was viewed as weak. I overcompensated when I was
younger, as a lot of men do. I tried to hang with the tough boys even though that
wasn’t me. Going through that journey of trying to be accepted by both
races—Black and Latino-- was a job. My dad was a big proponent of just be you,
you don’t have to try. This is from a man who listened to all kinds of music. He
loved Billy Idol, he’d stand in the mirror with his gun singing “White Wedding.”
He showed me the possibilities of what it meant to be a man, but I didn’t pick up
on it until later in life.

There’s a point where the Brooklyn boy chooses art and that becomes his way out.
There’s this thing for many black and brown folks where choosing art gives them
the world but takes away the families they’re born into because their experiences
expand beyond their family’s reach. Has that been your experience?

I can see where my experiences have distanced me from my family and the
community I grew up in some ways. I’ve had to come to that with empathy,
patience and knowing that there will be some jealousy and misunderstanding. I’ve
learned to be open, accepting and empathetic knowing that I’m not going to be as
accepted as I was before I left, and that’s okay. Sometimes growth means a re-
arranging of what a relationship is going to be. I think that’s a part of the evolution
of an artist, a person who’s finding that there’s more to life than their block.

What do you want audiences to take away from this piece?
It’s not about identity fully. This piece is about a person who is trying to better
himself and the way he deals with his family and friends as well as forgive himself
for things he’s done in the past. I feel like a lot of people can relate to that,
regardless of race and gender.

What’s your favorite song?
I’m a Prince man. Anything Prince I love. In the show, I really love the Marvin
Gaye songs. He’s a sensitive man and he sang in a sensitive way and people gave
him hell for that for a while. Then, people came around and appreciated his
tenderness. Male artists who walk that fine line of androgyny, such as Prince,
Luther Vandross, who have that more tender side are interesting to me. I don’t
think that men are given space to express their softer side enough.

Kelundra Smith is a theater critic and arts journalist based in Atlanta. Her work has been
published in
The New York Times, Food & Wine, American Theatre and elsewhere. She co-chairs
the diversity & inclusion committee for the American Theatre Critics Association and speaks about theater practices across the country. She has an affinity for chocolate cake, small towns, solo hikes, and a good story. Twitter: @pieceofkay Instagram: @anotherpieceofkay

Antonio Edwards Suarez. Photo by Seth Freeman.