BWW Review: John Leguizamo Brushes Up On LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS
It's no secret to theatregoer's that the frenetically paced, multi-character solo plays by Obie-winner John Leguizamo have provided far more insight into Latin-American history and culture than can be found in most American school textbooks.
But the newest from the creator of SPIC-O-RAMA, FREAK, SEXAHOLIX... A LOVE STORY and Ghetto Klown, titled Latin History for Morons, mixes its history lessons with a portrait of a dad trying to do right by his kids by instilling them with an awareness and an appreciation for their shared heritage.
Performing in front of a chalk board dressed in jeans and sneakers topped by a suit jacket, vest and tie, the energetic and charismatic Leguizamo comes off as the coolest teacher to hit the New York stage since Groucho Marx cavorted at the Palace performing "Fun In Hi Skule."
But Leguizamo's punch lines, potent and hilarious as they may be, have a serious undercurrent that propels director Tony Taccone's production. The narrative involves his adolescent son, Buddy, who has been picked on and called racial slurs by a school bully who proudly claims a bloodline going back to Andrew Jackson.
After a failed attempt to calmly discuss the matter with the bully's thickheaded dad, our hero tries to boost his kid's self-esteem by helping him pick a Latino role model for a school project about heroes.
The only trouble is that Leguizamo, himself a product of the New York City school system, has a knowledge of Latin-American history that begins with the ancient Mayans and stretches through thousands of years of nothing until today. (This prompts a sudden impersonation of recording artist Pitbull.)
So this triggers as in-depth a study of the subject as can be had in a 90-minute entertainment, segueing into numerous clever observations, some on-subject ("Why is all our art called 'folk art,' and then all of European art is called 'fine art,' and then 'modern art' is just our folk art gentrified.") and some going off on tangents, such as his explanation to his daughter about how lucky her generation is to have so much information at their fingertips. ("When we wanted to know the lyrics to a song we had to rewind and rewind and rewind!")
His research reveals details about forgotten historic figures such as Loreta Velazquez, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Confederate army, and Guy Louis Gabaldon, a Mexican-American World War II hero, but his son isn't inspired by war heroes.
Fans of feel-good endings might guess who Buddy chooses as his hero, but his reasoning provides a sharp twist on the way heroics might be viewed.