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He Says: Latin History for Morons A Return for a Refresher Course

He Says: Latin History for Morons A Return for a Refresher Course

Latin History For Morons

John Leguizamo is at it again. Back on Broadway, giving us all he has to give in his most recent one-man Latin History lesson of a show. It’s a laugh inducing class of performance mastery but this time it is dissected into two different categories.

John Leguizamo

John Leguizamo photo by Joan Marcus

The first is as expected. He wow’s us with his comic characterizations and high energy Latin beat dance moves, giving us a master class in the art of putting on a personal storytelling show. What it lacks in high conflict resolution it makes up in sweet father/child dynamics. His earlier pieces while being equally hilarious were anchored in more pressing matters of parental disappointment. In this show, it is now he who has to feel that look from his own children and his wife.

This time though, the second added category is a pseudo-high school history lesson administered by a quasi-professor with chalkboard, props, text books, and a whole lot of chalk dust flying through the air. He wants to lecture us on the history of the Latinos. It’s a chapter that the American history books have oddly enough left out and forgotten to teach at school and while preparing his lecture, he must confess his shame that he knows so little about the contributions of his own people. And when he finds himself unable to help his son who is in dire need of a hero, Leguizamo, as writer and solo performer, takes it upon himself to learn about the history of the original Americans; the people who lived here before this land was ‘discovered”. It truly is a lesson not only he or his son needs, but one we all need to hear, and it couldn’t be delivered with such a big dose of heart and humor by anyone else but this incomparable performer.

John Leguizamo

John Leguizamo photo by Joan Marcus

In a classroom designed by Rachel Hauck (set designer: Tiny Beautiful Things), Leguizamo is surrounded by history books and a large school blackboard (lighting design: Alexander V. Nichols). It doesn’t feel as classroom-like as it did at the more intimate Public Theater last year, but how could it on this large and more formal Broadway stage. But Leguizamo does his best to pull us into his classroom and feel connected to this wild professor. It is clear that at this historical moment in our nation, a lesson on the original Americans is more important than ever.
There was a moment of stress the night I saw the show, when voices of outrage and insult started to ring out in the mezzanine, with Leguizamo having to delicately weave in a call to security to head upstairs. It’s not surprising in this time of political division that some might be offended by his rhetoric but this crowd definitely has his Latino back, and amidst the shouts of “SHUT UP!” aimed at the insulted one who felt he had the right to yell out his disagreement with Leguizamo, the stress level rose, but the alignment tightened.

As directed by Tony Taccone (Bridge and Tunnel, Wishful Drinking), the current political scenario luckily and rightfully is obviously not ignored, but commented on here and there with humor and a solid edge of frustration. Some may be angered I suppose, but not likely anyone in his fan base. This wildman history teacher persona crafted by Leguizamo sometimes slides too far off topic, letting the historical details get a bit lost in his typical energetic storytelling. but he rarely lets the important sentiment or the key points travel too far out of focus. Although, in the end, I wondered if I was actually taking in as much as I wanted to learn.

As Leguizamo has done so skillfully in his numerous other one man shows, namely Mambo Mouth (Obie Award and an Outer Critics Award, 1991), Spic-o-rama (Drama Desk Award and four Cable ACE Awards, 1993), Sexaholix… A Love Story (2002), and Ghetto Klown (Outer Critics Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award both for Outstanding Solo Performance, 2011), he always manages to layer meaningful and important discussions on race and intolerance on top of personal heartache. It’s done with a huge dash of humor and heart, sprinkled with Latin music (original music and sound design: Bray Poor) and dance moves, leaving us, and him, a wee bit breathless. He isn’t the young highflying soloist I saw back in 1998 in the Emmy and Tony Award nominated Freak (Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show), but he’s no slouch either as he takes over the huge Studio 54 Theatre.

A great commentator and impersonator, although sometimes not so politically correct, he may make some wince or be offended, like the man behind me who I heard muttering about Leguizamo’s comments being ‘racist’, while others, will just laugh. His gay-lisping character made me wince a bit, even though I knew he was going to address his gay brother granting him gay-immunity, something I’m not sure I one hundred percent can  get behind that idea. But he does manage to take us through 3000 years in the Americas possibly and joyfully offending just about everyone in his path. On this wild historical ride, he tries to teach us about the Native Americans, the Taínos, the Incas and the Aztecs, all while trying to help his son gain some power and strength within his own heritage and history.

The core story is both achingly personal and relatable, with varying degrees of warmth and simplicity. Sometimes it feels a tad bit on the light side and unfocused, but the personal drive is always present and highly functional. Quick references that are thrown in here and there from his familial history resonate while also being hilarious. He still has that way about him. He can tell you a quick aside that is both deeply powerful and ridiculously funny, all within the same beat. We get schooled as he tries to school himself so he can help his son find a hero to call his own.

The ending, although not surprising, is very touching and simply sweet. Leguizamo’s edge might be not as sharp as his previous explosive and foul-mouthed explorations of racial tensions in American, but Latin History for Morons is a deeply thoughtful story, told by a father who is trying to grow up while also trying to raise his children better than he himself was. This is what makes America great to be honest, not false claims and exaggerated promises, but to see a Latin man, who many would try to call an immigrant, learn that he has more right to be here than those that want to call him and his son names. Those name-callers, like Trump, are the true decedents of illegal immigrants in American, not the ones who were here before. Columbus is no hero in my world, nor is he one in Leguizamo’s. But we certainly learn about a few imperfect ones in his Latin History class given by an imperfect master for all of us morons.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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