Jill Weinlein, Chief Los Angeles Critic
Inspired after learning his son “Buddy” was being bullied at his prestigious private school by a racist student, Tony Award-winning actor and writer John Leguizamo delved into books about Latin history to find his son, and himself a Latin hero. While researching, he discovered honorable Latin leaders and epic civilizations that school textbooks overlook. With this wealth of information, he created his one-man show “Latin History for Morons.”
Under the direction of Tony Taccone (directed the first inception of “Angels in America” at the Mark Taper Forum at Center Theatre Group), this Latin 101 show is similar in how Lin-Manuel Miranda educates audiences about American History in “Hamilton”. Legiuzamo’s spoken word and sexy Tango, Mambo, Samba and Cha-Cha moves engage the audience filled with “morons.”
Lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols and sound designer Bray Poor’s original music enhance the scenes with Rachel Hauck’s classroom set that includes an old school chalkboard, stacks of books, file cabinets, a desk, and chair.
Growing up feeling like a second class citizen, the actor says in the Playbill “I need to please me, because that’s who I write for, really, and if I can write for myself and please myself, then I know it’ll please somebody else.” All of this knowledge “un-moronized’ and empowered him.
Leguizamo’s teaching style is engaging, crass, informative and entertaining. He probably would be fired on his first day for his raunchy drawings and multiple f-bombs, but for adult students, this one-man show is eye-opening and thought-provoking.
For 110 minutes, this talented actor becomes different people by changing vocal tones and inflections. He is a past teacher at his underfunded New York City public school; his low maintenance Jewish wife; his smart, but shy son; his wise teenage daughter; and an array of world leaders and discoverers.
Leguizamo shares with us how he was a “ghetto nerd” and felt invisible as a child in school, because his heritage was seldom taught in the classroom, emphasizing “Those who can not remember your past, will repeat it.” Leguizamo is not afraid to discuss our current President and his administration. His storytelling of 3,000 years of Latin history from the Mayans to Donald Trump, includes the King of Spain putting Latin people in cages, and with a straight face and tone, he says “Good thing that isn’t happening anymore.”
He points to a few audience members to answer some of his questions. When one man couldn’t answer correctly, the actor shouts out “Blame Betsy DeVos.”
Other political lines include how “Columbus was the Donald Trump of the New World” and the similarities of Cortez and Montezuma to Trump and Vladimir Putin’s relationship.
The audience roared in laughter when he uses the blackboard to sketch the world as a raunchy version of the super mellow PBS artist and teacher Bob Ross.
Another laugh out loud scene was when Leguizamo uses blackboard chalk to look more like U.S. 7th President Andrew Jackson, while educating us about the “Trail of Tears.”
“Latin History for Morons” concludes with “Latins are so American that it hurts. They have shed blood for America in every war in America, and are the most decorated soldiers.” If all this information was put into history books for our children to read, imagine how Americans would see Latin people and how Latin people would see themselves.
My favorite line in the show was when Leguizamo becomes his wise daughter offering advice, “If a bully is like sandpaper, he is going to hurt you, but in the end, he will wear out and you will be polished.”
For those who want to learn more about Latin History, Leguizamo lists an index of books in the Playbill to continue your education after the show.
Tickets are available at www.TheatreGroup.org, by calling Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office (at the Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles). Tickets range from $35 – $145 (ticket prices are subject to change). 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.