Review: In ‘Antonio’s Song’ at Goodman Theatre, the arts become a roadmap for a life

A career in the arts has transformed the lives of many people, and there long has been a healthy genre of autobiographical shows that celebrate how an early encounter with a great artist can turn everything around.

So it goes with “Antonio’s Song/I Was Dreaming of a Son,” an 80-minute solo work at the Goodman Theatre performed by the busy American actor Antonio Edwards Suarez, who cowrote the piece with Dael Orlandersmith, one of the great American masters of this particular genre.

Herein, Suarez, who is part Latino and part Black, recounts a tough and hard-driven Brooklyn youth which saw him shifting on the streets between his Latino and Black friends, depending on the day of the week. As the show recounts, Suarez later finds himself with a son and yet few models of compassionate parenting. The heart of the piece is about his own journey from inexperience to a new capability of being a nurturing father.

But “Antonio’s Song” is also one of affection for the transformational capacity of theater and dance: Suarez attends a performance by Mikhail Baryshnikov, he tells us, and, thereafter, newly understands his own capacity for poetry, movement and emotional compassion. By the end of the show, he’s landed in graduate school at Harvard and, newly armed with an artistic vocabulary, his life becomes more rooted, fulfilling and driven by greater levels of personal responsibility.

Suarez is a skilled, intense and engaging performance and the show, subtly directed by Mark Clements, is artistically rich of presentation. Knowing Orlandersmith and her work, I suspect she functioned as a mentor here and the text is poetic and complex. It has many moving moments, notwithstanding a certain remove the piece maintains from its audience.

At this juncture, though, the change brought about by seeing Misha in motion doesn’t feel fully explored, and it gets overwhelmed toward the end by a lot of less interesting stuff about great it is to be at a prestigious school with a study abroad program, which is of limited appeal to anyone who does not know Suarez personally. The work is very much a moral fable, of course, and you certainly can guess where it is going. “Antonio’s Song” perhaps best belongs in a series that would attract more young people who might find in it something akin to what Suarez found in Baryshnikov. I suspect Suarez could put an educational tour together.

From an audience perspective, though, the work currently is caught in the middle between what a very famous actor might create as a performative work of autobiography and something more intensely focused on allowing viewers to see themselves in an archetypal journey. The latter avenue is the better one, I think, especially if Suarez and this adept design team can offer more specifics about how art can change a person’s trajectory through life, invariably for the better.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

Review: “Antonio’s Song/I Was Dreaming of a Son” (2.5 stars)

When: Through May 28

Where: Goodman Theatre, 160 N. Dearborn St.

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Tickets: $15-50 at 312-443-3800 and