Latino Laurence Olivier, Spanish Richard Pryor or “Ghetto Klown”?

John Leguizamo loves to talk about himself. His one-man shows (This is his fifth.) are like therapy. For the past 20 years, he has used the stage to contemplate, criticize, parody, purge and ultimately, forgive the important players in his life. Everything that has happened to him –– from pushing and getting pushed by Kurt Russell and Steven Seagal, respectively, to aggravating Al Pacino –– and everyone who has touched him ––his best friend-from-the-block RayRay, his old-lady acting coach with three hairs sticking up nicknamed Tweety –– have helped create who he is: a ghetto klown.

Born in the “scrotum of Queens, next to the penis of Manhattan” (he announces as he projects a show-and-tell map of the two boroughs outlined as genitalia), Leguizamo stumbled into acting at the urging of an exacerbated math teacher. After reading plays by the greats like Sam Shepherd and Miguel Pinero, he saw that fucked up lives could be put down on paper. Another central epiphany to Leguizamo’s life output happened when he realized he could hide behind characters, whether of someone else’s design or his own. The hip and handsome manboy reveals what most of us have figured out about him at this point in his career; he transformed his destructive impulses into creative ones.

Much of what Leguizamo talks about in “Ghetto Klown” is not new. We’ve seen caricatures of his family and pieces of his life in his previous plays. His personal story of a struggling actor struggling with issues surrounding auditioning, ego, improvisation and rejection,is not unique, either. But it’s John Leguizamo that’s fresh each time he steps on stage. He is part hip-hop, Colombian, celebrity, father, lover and more, and he delivers his fast-talking tales and hyper antics in the form of raw comedy, music, multimedia projections, dance moves and hilarious imitations.

Leguizamo trash talks his fellow costars, embarrasses his closest family and often provides political insight, like when he explains what he calls subjugation architecture by projecting a picture of a school that looks like a jail and a jail that looks like a school, both in New York City. One of the most pleasant surprises of the show is sifting through Leguizamo’s large body of work. From his first role as a drug dealer on “Miami Vice” in 1984 to his scoring his own variety show, “House of Buggin’, in 1995 on FOX, to the plethora of big and small TV and movie roles he has racked up, his prolific catalogue might surprise many of his everyday fans.

Throughout “Ghetto Klown,” Leguizamo tries to give us a glimpse of his “internal jihad”, how every time he spirals and hits rock bottom, he bounces back with a spring of inspiration. His constant search for love and approval is satisfied through exhibition and audience connection. As Leguizamo affirms continuously throughout the night: “Sharing my unhappiness on stage is my happiness.”

Article on USC’s Neon Tommy

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