New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"Ghetto Klown” (John Leguizamo solo performance)
Lyceum Theatre, Manhattan

John Leguizamo is back on the New York stage, turning once more to the genre which suits him so well---the one-man show. His past solo appearances--happily-remembered and award-winning--have included “Mambo Mouth,” “Spic-O-Rama,” and “Freak.” In these he takes sharp, affectionate jabs at his fellow Latinos—and the Latin-American culture in general.

Thus we have the stand-up comic par excellence—the Latino Billy Crystal, one might say. Leguizamo is a hilarious, brilliant writer/performer—and we expected more of the same this time around.

But “Ghetto Klown” is a very different animal. We are no longer at Comedy Central or Caroline’s, but in a confessional or on the therapist’s couch! This time around, Leguizamo is not looking outward at the world, aiming to amuse and entertain. Instead, he turns inward, working from the inside out. It is a serious, grown-up Leguizamo, focusing  on himself. Who is he? What is he about? Where is he going?

As he puts it in his program notes, “I wish to transport you into my world as I saw it—rootless and undocumented. It’s my endless quest to examine my life, to create a history and legacy where there wasn’t one. I try not to judge those chemical and electric moments that have forged me as a storyteller as good or bad, but as stepping stones toward self expression and self-fulfillment….”

How appropriate that Leguizamo stages his current show at the Lyceum Theatre, purported to be New York City’s oldest theater! As Leguizamo offers up his own history, he is surrounded by theater history in this landmark building. “Ghetto Klown” is not daunted by the Lyceum setting, and the show, under Fisher Stevens’ direction, makes full use of the facilities. Using a two-level set design (courtesy of Happy Massee) and videos flashed across a screen (designed by Aaron Gonzalez), the many phases of Leguizamo’s life—and his parade of characters—come across.

Yet Leguizamo dominates--an endearing entertainer and very real human being. In this production he reaches out to a largely Latino audience, frequently lapsing into Spanish. And there’s no doubt that he has a large Latino following, as indicated by audience response. But he has a humanity that reaches across cultures, making a universal appeal- whatever the words, the tales, the little dances across the stage. As he traces his early years, his struggle to build a career, his love affairs fortunate and unfortunate, we travel that journey with him.

All told, though it is is not the show we expected, it is a first-rate show. We walked out of the Lyceum feeling deeply moved—and grateful that the multi-talented John Leguizamo exists on this planet.

--Irene Backalenick
Mar. 21, 2011

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