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Latin History for Morons: by John Leguizamo

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 


Latin History for Morons Play

John Leguizamo in Latin History for Morons. Photo: Matthew Murphy  

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 

John Leguizamo's Latin History for Morons was topical in last year's off-Broadway run at the Public Theater.  Over the past months at Broadway's Studio 54, it has found even more political fodder to chew on, and Leguizamo had to tell his audience to settle down.  "We’ve got a lot of work to do here -- and very little time. Cause I gotta undo your whole education and the entire way you think."  

He was right.  Colombia-born John Leguizamo (Ghetto Klown, Freak), outspoken, hilarious, and a helluva Mambo dancer, explains how his family faced his pre-teen son, Buddy's problem with an ethnic bully.   When Buddy was assigned to do a school history project, Leguizamo encouraged him to respect his own history and write about a Latin hero.  

But who?  Leguizamo quickly realized that Latin heroes were missing in his son's education and then remembered that they were also absent in his own 1970's and '80's schoolbooks.  Against Buddy's resistance, he was determined to find a heroic Latin example and for the next 110 minutes, Leguizamo scoured every book on Rachel Hauck's cluttered set, researching the racially complex Latin history in the New World.   

It was a frustrating task.  American history books were largely written by white men (and a few white women).  Looking back on my own education, and probably yours, little attention was paid to historical contributions by Latinos as well as women, Native Americans, Afro-Americans, Jews, or Muslims. 

Directed by Tony Taccone, Leguizamo launches a whirlwind intellectual jihad to educate Latin dummies.  He tears through history, from Moctezuma in the Mayan history and Atahualpa, the last king of the Incan empire, while spewing insults at Cortez, Pizarro, Christopher Columbus ("genocidal rapist") and today's Arizona anti-immigration act ("Show me your papers").  Zooming through centuries and cultures, he compares the conquistadors to NFL players at a Kardashian pool party and admits to losing his cool at a talk before Texas conservatives.  He informs his son that Latinos fought in every American war since the Revolution, a fact that is ignored in history books.

With energy, music and comedy, Leguizamo shines with sharp-edged timing and a dialect dexterity for his Tim Gunn-sounding therapist, although his accent for French philosopher, Alexander de Tocqueville, is a slurred European mash up.  Working Hauck's book-filled set with lighting by Alexander V. Nichol and Bray Poor's sound design, he shifts the blackboard around, furiously scribbling and erasing with clouds of chalk dust rising and settling on his ill-fitting suit by Luke McDonough.

Leguizamo has a point to deliver and he gives his history lesson with passionate X-rated language, laughs and poignancy, and the spirit and vitality of street-honed heart.  There is, however, a lot more history to be gleaned and you might be inspired to do some digging yourself for previously ignored ethnic, racial and gender inspirational figures.    

Latin History for Morons: by John Leguizamo

Studio 54
254 West 54th Street, NYC
Previews: Oct. 19, 2017. Opening: Nov. 15, 2017.  Closing: Feb. 25, 2018
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission 
Cast: John Leguizamo
Written: John Leguizamo
Directed: Tony Taccone 

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
November 2017

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