John Leguizamo has a problem at home. His wife is waiting for him to step up, his daughter is at the know-it-all brat stage, his son is being bullied at school and that is the source for all the turmoil at home. He wants his son to be able to defend himself not with his fists, but with his words. It is words, after all, that built his father’s career. When the bullies at his prep school begin to taunt him about his race and heritage Leguizamo wants his progeny to be able to quote historical facts about their great ancestors. This is where the problem presents itself. When his son challenges him for facts to use in his defense his father realizes he has none. He realizes that the education that he received, the one we all received and continue to receive, is devoid of the true story of the Latin global influence.
Latin History for Morons, as Leguizamo points out, is for us. We’re the morons. So was he. Until he set about educating himself and his son. That search gave birth to the latest one-man show from the king of one man shows. This semi-autobiographical ninety minute work is a class in discovery. Our lesson spans three thousand years of Latin history. Its syllabus includes all the magnificent Latin kingdoms that once ruled a good portion of the globe. It speaks in truths of the rise and fall of great cultures, legendary heroes, and the significant impact they had on history. These historical events range the gamut from ancient wars to modern battles, through science, art, music, and beyond. All the while illustrating how these accomplishments were squashed and diminished by calculated influences that exist to this day.
There are shades of Mark Twain alive and well on the Studio 54 stage. Twain was, of course, known for his books and stories but he was also one of the first touring standup comics. His lectures made the people of the late 1800’s take an introspective look and question the lessons they had taught themselves about life, the class system, and race relations. This lecture is also reminiscent of the heady days of George Carlin’s landmark Class Clown where he took on the establishment and where the seeds were sown that made him a counter culture icon. Carlin dedicated that album to Lenny Bruce who led the modern-day counterculture era and paved the way for future outspoken social critics and satirists, who had no fear of mixing comedy and politics, religion, sex, and vulgarity.
Leguizamo embodies all that but he would be quick to point out that the influences don’t stop there. Cheech and Chong are the current Latin anchors of this genre. All their albums were lessons in resistance, non-conformity, and cultural reflection. There are echoes of their classic parochial school routine Sister Mary Elephant at work in Leguizamo’s lesson. Puerto Rican Freddie Prinze is here too, so are the language hijinks of Mexican comedian Cantinflas, Cuban historical comedy artist Alina Tropayo is present, even the ironic sass of young Puerto Rican Aubrey Plaza can be felt. Leguizamo gleefully speaks of the mixing of the races and the foundations of his comedic work reflects that.
Actor and comedian Leguizamo is a Columbian raconteur that started in stand up and branched out into television and film. His personal life and experiences are the source of his comedic work. He is a fearless entertainer and a masterful wordsmith, who not only obviously values education but also basks in the light it provides. This producer, screenwriter, playwright, and now self-taught teacher of Latin history is also well credentialed. He has won two Obie’s, three Drama Desk awards, three Outer Critics Circle awards, one Emmy, and six Cable Ace awards for his troubles. Leguizamo needs to make room on his shelf of accomplishments because Latin History For Morons is a powerful, and powerfully funny lecture that will once again garner awards for its creator and professor.
Director Tony Taccone is no slouch either. He’s been the Artistic Director of Berkley Rep for the past twenty-three years. Amongst his accomplishments he commissioned and co-directed the Los Angeles world premiere of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America. In this production Taccone lets his thoroughbred lead run at his own pace but has crafted a world around him that lets every aspect shine. Rachel Hauck’s very realistic drab New York public school classroom is a treasure trove of nooks and crannies that Leguizamo uses to his advantage to find books, and books, and even more books to back up all his claims. Lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols work is to be commended as well for its ability to take Leguizamo on all the journeys he must travel to present the world of his stories. From his son’s constantly slamming bedroom door, to distant far off shores and imagined dance parties, then bringing us right back to class again.
At this point in his career John Leguizamo has performed in the more plays than any Latin actor. He’s also had the most one man shows on Broadway by any actor. Leguizamo is a theatrical national treasure of many nations. They’re all inside him. The Mayan warrior. The proud Incan. The peaceful Taino. The outspoken American. He’s a true citizen of the world and he’s on a mission to teach a class we should all take. Now more than ever.
Studio 54 254 West 54th St New York, NY 10019 https://latinhistorybroadway.com/ 212.239.6200 Nov 15 – Feb 4, 2018 $55 - $249
From an original post on TheaterScene.
Photo credit Joan Marcus.