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Latin History For Morons
The writer/performer of such stand-out solo shows as Mambo Mouth, Spic-O-Rama, Ghetto Klown has plenty to say about the lack of respect and recognition due his own people (Columbian and Puerto Rican in his case) for a race and for a culture that can be traced back to the indigenous people of Mexico and through all the Americas.
He takes us on a circuitous and definitely catastrophe filled journey, beginning with the Mayan civilization around 1,000 B.C. up to the present. Into this he weaves a discursive narrative in which he fondly lectures to his middle-school-aged son (unseen). His attempt to educate the boy as well as build up his self-esteem after being bullied at school and called a "beanie" is a daunting project.
Aware that his son is in danger of flunking history and in need of finding a hero for his own history project, Leguizamo finds the answers he needs in the books that are piled helter-skelter on the floor and on shelves in what looks vaguely like a schoolroom. The scenic design created by Rachel Hauck is most notable for the large blackboard on which Leguizamo charts the facts and figures, often funnily misspelled.
Except for the what he knows about the conquest of the New World by King Philip of Spain, he admits to being dismayed by the lack of Latin-American history taught when he went to school. He expounds on the numerous famous Spanish explorers such as Cortez and Pizarro and especially the blood-thirsty and horny Conquistadors who came to the Americas to conquer and plunder for gold . He doesn't leave out their legacy of disease and bestiality. This did make me wonder if his suggesting that the Incas rather swishy King Moctezuma and Cortez had a fling isn't what causes his son to at one point slam his bedroom door on his over-zealous Dad.
Our professor's more sordid considerations are toned down a notch during the effort to build the boy's self-esteem and meaningfully enrich his basic lack of knowledge regarding the Latin contributions to the arts, sciences and, indeed, politics. He indirectly, but also ferociously, addresses the anti immigrant rhetoric that is surfacing thanks to our current President.
I'm not sure that I connected all the dots between Christopher Columbus's agenda and that of Trump. It was easier to feel our narrator's anger and angst when he tries to neutralize, actually deplore, the new wave of bigotry of those who see Mexicans as rapists, murderers and bad people.
One episode in which Leguizamo pricks up our ears is his story about the very real Cuban-American Loreta Velazquez who fought for the Confederates dressed as a man. This provided an opportunity for Leguizamo to do some very funny cross-dressing. In fact, he never misses an opportunity to share his flair for dress-up and sexually provocative activities, much to the delight of his fans. There is an especially lot of joy in his exuberant dancing through an almost complete recap of Latin-music and dance.
There is no question that Leguizamo, under the direction of Tony Taccone, loves to perform and loves himself as a performer — a not-too-feeble posture to take when doing a solo show.
I did carry away from this alternately scathing and scholarly seminar the revived sorrow that must be shared by all immigrated Americans — our country's genocidal mission with regard to the native Americans.
If you asked me whether I learned a lot from this overly long and also capriciously foul-mouthed 100 minute discourse, I would have to say no. On the other hand, maybe Leguizamo Junior would say yes.
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Latin History for Morons
Written and Performed by John Leguizamo
Scenic Design: Rachel Hauck
Lighting Design: Alexander V. Nichols
Original Music and Sound Design: Bray Poor
Production Stage Manager: Lisa Iacucci
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes no intermission
Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street
Tickets: $80 (212) 967-7555, www.publictheater.org
Performances: Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
From 02/24/17 Opened 03/27/17 Ends 04/23/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 03/23/17
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