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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
GHETTO KLOWN
at Lyceum Theatre

CELEBRATED FAILURES
By JESSICA BRANCH

  John Leguizamo/ Ph: Carol Rosegg

In his latest one-man personal history, performer and writer John Leguizamo (Sexaholix, Freak) tells us that he’s cheap (and, as he tells it, he’s punished for it with a plague of Biblical proportions). And if that’s as true as the other hard-won character insights he shares seem to be, then he’s a very lucky man: Rather than pay a psychiatrist, he not only gets the therapeutic benefits of sharing his checkered past with an unconditionally accepting audience every few years, he gets applauded (and paid) for the privilege.

But it’s hard to begrudge the wiry, wisecracking “Johnny Legs,” thanks to the sheer joy he clearly takes in baring his biography. Against a backdrop of screened images (some scenic, some ironic commentary), he recounts his rough-and-tumble childhood in Queens, his commandeering of a subway conductor’s booth (or “boof,” as he used to say back then) to get an audience for his impressions, and his ultimate discovery of acting as an outlet for his antic energy.

He details his always tumultuous family life with his overachieving Colombian mother and his demanding, distrustful Puerto Rican father and his almost-equally eventful string of romantic relationships as his career progresses, often in directions he’s unenthusiastic about following. Detailing his successes onscreen (too often, he tells us, in the stereotyped role of “the Latin drug dealer,” as in Carlito’s Way), he doesn’t shy off from his failures, be they professional (as when his pet project, a Latino-oriented variety show called House of Buggin’ is dropped) or personal, as his relationships foundered due to infidelity and/or flakiness. Throughout all the tumult, writing, he avers, is what kept him on (or returned him back to) course, letting him spill out his sorrows on paper and turn them into standup.

Not every celebrity can pull off telling audiences how rough he (or she) has had it, but Leguizamo’s got the gift for making his tribulations – whether they’re in the ghetto or the heights of Hollywood – both relatable and funny, however traumatic they might have been at the time. Grounding it all is his intergenerational angst with his parents, whom he mimics with a zest that never seems to pall.

Leguizamo’s infectious energy and sheer exuberance for performance might well motor even a lesser show, but as he reports his parents’ appalled response to his previous portrayals of them, it’s hard not to marvel at the creative confidence prepared to co-opt even these confrontations in his current show. And yet Leguizamo’s wry, self-perceptive style is so winning that even his parents must have found it irresistible in the end. 

 


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