|LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS|
“You know me. You know me. You know me.” Indeed, by now, you might think we do know pretty much everything about actor-comedian John Leguizamo – who utters these words frequently (for reasons you’ll discover) during “Latin History For Morons,” his hilarious and surprisingly enlightening solo show now at Studio 54 (after a run last year at the Public Theater).
Indeed, despite his many previous stage outings (including “Freak” and “Spic-O-Rama”), “Latin History” reveals new layers to Leguizamo’s story, most notably his struggles to both be an effective, helping parent to his unhappy teenaged son Buddy and to stop feeling inferior to white people. For all its deeply felt honesty, though, the show is no pity party; in fact, more often, it’s a real party where audience members feel free to hoot, holler, clap and get up and meringue when they feel like it! It’s a tough balancing act, one which Leguizamo manages with the skill of the most experienced tightrope walker (aided, in no small part, by Tony Taccone’s expertly calibrated direction).
These two strands of his life are beautifully intertwined through the story that’s been created for this 110-minute piece: Buddy, who is being bullied in his private school for his ethnicity, has to do a history project for school, and John urges him to tackle the subject of Latin heroes. Quickly, though, John not only realizes that his own education in the 1970s and 1980s omitted this area of academic study, but also that has nothing has changed in the past five decades. And since his son’s textbooks are just as inadequate, he ends up doing all the research himself (basically, against his son’s wishes)– much of which he shares with us on Rachel Hauck’s faux-classroom set.
So, in between often-hysterical personal digressions about his Jewish wife’s anxiety, his mother’s horrible cooking, his “super-gay” brother and his sessions with his uber-WASPy therapist, we get a not-altogether-serious Cliff Notes take on the trajectory of Latin people in the Americas from the year 1000 to the “age of Pitbull” (aka 2017). He recaps their horrible treatment over and over again from the Spanish (including the “genocidal rapist” Christopher Columbus) as well as Americans both past (Alexander Hamilton) and present (the crowd at a diversity conference he spoke at in Texas). Conversely, he points out that thousands of Latin men (and even a woman or two) fought in every American war since the Revolution, without any credit for their deeds. It’s a hard pill to swallow (especially while you’re laughing) and a tougher one to digest.
As always, it’s a pleasure to watch Leguizamo take on a variety of characters, because of the commitment he brings to the task. While he may not have the impersonation skills of the world’s greatest mimics, each of the personae he takes on (some very briefly) are wonderfully delineated, primarily without a huge reliance on wigs, props and other paraphernalia. (Trust me, you’ll never think of the Mexican emperor Montezuma the same way again!)
Yet, as funny and as X-rated as he is (please don’t bring the kiddies, or for that matter, any die-hard Republicans), Leguizamo can’t entirely avoid being a bit sentimental towards the show’s conclusion, which is set at Buddy’s graduation. Still, there is no arguing with Buddy’s (and Leguizamo’s) ultimate message: “Latins have taken the worst beating in history and we’re still here. Doing art, writing, dancing, inventing and just plain not giving up.”
Amen, brother John!
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 10/19/2017
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