LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS
Written and performed by John Leguizamo
On Broadway at Studio 54
254 West 54 Street (between Broadway & 8th Avenue)
New York NY 10019
For tickets, visit Telecharge.
By Randy Gener
NEW YORK CITY | In the Broadway solo play, LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS, the popular film actor John Leguizamo schools audiences on the need and the search for notable Latinos overlooked in American history.
Inspired by the near-total absence of Latinos in his son’s American history class, Leguizamo frenziedly scours around for the right U.S. Latin hero for his son’s school project. From a mad recap of the Aztec empire to stories of unknown Latin patriots of the Revolutionary War and beyond, Leguizamo breaks down the 3,000 years between the Mayans and Ricky Ricardo into 95 irreverent and uncensored minutes in his trademark style.
The Tony nominee’s new solo comedy has been extended by three weeks, through February 25, 2018. The show was originally slated for an engagement through February 4 at Studio 54. It began previews on October 19 and officially opened on November 15.
Tony Taccone, the stage director who put Leguizamo to his acting paces (and phases), remembers that the two men used to call the show “Latin History for Dummies.” Problem was that the people who owned the patent on those “…for Dummies” books threatened to sue them if they had not chanted the title.
“John was in a workshop at my theater in Berkeley, California, just working on some new material and he came on this idea of doing a lecture about Latin history,” Taccone says. “He’d gotten really turned on by this personal quest of his to rediscover his own Latin history roots. It turned into kind of a lecture, and he started to perform it at some comedy club-type of venues.”
As it turned out, comedy-club audiences did not appreciate being lectured at, so it seemed time to go back to square one. How exactly does one entertain and educate while going on and on about the unspoken history of Latin peoples?
The solution was to make the show personal. Thus began the shift into what Taccone describes as “a father-son story, which was somewhat autobiographic.” The final results tracks the story of his son being bullied at school, and how they dealt with that. Taccone noted a parallel track to fold into the story. “John trying educate himself, the audience and his son about Latin history became the three-dimensional paradigm for the show.”
Surprisingly poignant and sly, LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS poses sharp and timely questions of identity as it intersects with education and fatherhood. The actor and comedian admits he’s always felt like a second-class citizen in his own country. He says this early on during his latest one-man show. The 52-year-old actor was born in Colombia, but moved to New York when he was only 4 years old. He grew up in Queens and studied theater at NYU, before dropping out and starting what would become a prolific career in acting: He’s acted in more than 100 movies and TV shows and his one-man shows, like FREAK and GHETTO KLOWN, have gone on to become HBO specials.
It would be fair to note that Tony Taccone — a half-Italian and half-Puetro Rican director who leads the artistic realms of Berkley Repertory Theatre in California — might be Broadway’s reigning solo freak. Remember the late Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame? Taccone staged the Broadway production of Fisher’s solo comedy WISHFUL DRINKING. That was his second Broadway credit following, well, another solo show called BRIDGE & TUNNEL written and performed by Sarah Jones, another solo-actor type. Taccone also took over actor Danny Hoch who inveighed against Brooklyn gentrification in TAKING OVER.
(Not to put too find a point of it: Many solo playwrights, such as Anna Deveare Smith and Mike Daisey, have made Berkeley Rep their Bay Area home during Taccone’s tenure there which is slated to end in 2019).
“I’d actually sworn off one-person shows,” Taccone says. “You know what? I’m sitting here going, ‘I used to direct CORIOLANUS. What’s happened to me?’ I really have not sought out those shows at all. But what happens is there are these extraordinary people: Danny Hoch and Sarah Jones. I guess I just fall in love with them a little. John is so damn good, and we were close at that point. I just thought, I’d like to hang out with this guy and see what we got. Literally that was three years ago.”
Describing himself as a political animal, Taccone adds that it is not difficult to view LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS through what one might call a Trump lens.
The sense of urgency Leguizamo brings to the show speaks directly, Taccone says, to the reality “that there’s this new administration that feels hellbent on re-establishing the supremacy of (the) white American, in whatever terms that means to anybody. So we’re in dialogue with that.”
For close to two years, Leguizamo tosses off a line in the show where, while speaking about Christopher Columbus, the comedian says, “Columbus was the Donald Trump of the New World.”
That line always got a good response, but Taccone says that this time around, after the November 2017 presidential elections, Leguizamo’s retort is “getting an electrifying response. “You don’t have to do much to get that political resonance to be felt in a very immediate way,” Taccone says. “I like a good fight, and having an enemy is very clarifying.”