John Leguizamo, who was told growing up that Latinos contributed nothing to society but drugs and violence, sets out to reclaim his people’s history and pride in “Latin History for Morons,” a high-energy, information-packed new solo show at The Public Theater.
Before becoming a well-known film actor, Leguizamo rose to prominence on the New York stage with comic monologues exploring his coming of age, including “Mambo Mouth” and “Freak.” This time around, his subject matter is far more expansive.
Leguizamo explains that growing up, he had no Latin heroes to look up to, making him feel like an outsider. Now, he is determined to make sure his teenage son does not feel the same way, especially in light of current politics and continued discrimination.
I don’t know about you, but Latin-American history was barely covered at my high school, which probably makes me an ideal student for this 90-minute tutorial.
Leguizamo incorporates elements of his earlier shows — including impersonations of his quirky family — but he spends most of the time going over the ancient civilizations (Maya, Inca, Aztec), native tribes and paying tribute to overlooked Latinos.
But this is not a dry recitation of a bullet-point outline. Leguizamo is passionately ranting and raving, bouncing around, doing dance steps and deploying his comic arsenal as he speeds through the centuries. He describes Columbus as the “Donald Trump of the New World” and compares his discovery of America to stealing someone else’s wallet and claiming it as your own. He also dresses up for the occasion as an old-school professor.
The show (directed by Tony Taccone) may benefit from further development, especially to its messy structure and sentimental ending, but it makes for one hell of an effective and enjoyable history lesson.