The tour of “John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons” has arrived in DC. The subject matter has never been more relevant and timely considering the current political climate – and the venue sits in the midst of it all. This brilliant, one-man show currently is making a stop at the National Theatre.
“…brilliant, one-man show…”
Leguizamo is a true renaissance man – actor, comedian, voice artist, producer, screenwriter and prolific writer with an impressive list of credits, nominations, and awards. Adding to his five previous award-winning, one-man shows, Latin History was nominated in 2018 for a Tony Award for Best Play. Leguizamo was ultimately awarded a special Tony that year for his production. It is a true gift to all of us that he has taken this production on tour.
A classmate bullies Leguizamo’s son by claiming that while he came from generals and captains of the Civil War, “Buddy” was just a “beaner.” (Never mind that his son is also half Jewish). Inspired by his son’s school project about heroes and to give him not just a good comeback to his bully but a sense of ethnic pride, Leguizamo delves into the heritage of his people.
What he discovers is wonderful, shocking and heartbreaking. The history and great contributions (as well as their genocide) of the indigenous peoples of the Americas – including the American Indians and Africans who are also part of his Latino ancestry – were virtually non-existent in his son’s history schoolbooks. Cortez and his Spanish conquistadors conquered and all but destroyed the advanced civilizations of the Maya, Aztec, and Inca of Central and South America, melting their gold artwork into coins, raping and enslaving them. And don’t forget Columbus who never set foot in America and decimated the gentle Taino natives of the Caribbean islands. It wasn’t the Spanish conquerors’ sophisticated weapons that destroyed the indigenous people but the diseases they brought with them from Europe.
For two non-stop hours, and using only a few props and set pieces – notably books and a blackboard – Leguizamo hilariously and poignantly schools the audience on the beautiful, ugly, and funny truths about the history of the Latinx people, from the Aztecs to Pitbull. He balances painful discoveries with irreverent and uncensored humor and gentle moments with his son and daughter who deliver their own unexpected pearls of insight.
Leguizamo sometimes goes too fast, leaving you wanting more information. Thankfully there is a link to find the books he references. Despite this wholesale ethnocide and continued prejudice, the Latino people continue on, contributing to the fabric and history of this country as they have since its inception.
Tony Taccone directs this tireless force of nature who rarely stops moving and engaging the audience. A master chameleon, just a slight change in his body language, an accent or small prop, the actor completely transforms into his son, his daughter, his wife, his therapist, the bully’s father, and even comic interpretations of past historic figures. The sparse set by Rachel Hauck, with lighting design by Alexander V. Nichols, puts all the focus on the captivating actor. Thanks to the touches of costume designer Luke McDonough, Leguizamo looks like a slightly rumpled professor but with a ghetto clown attitude. While at times his language can be a little over the top, the passion and message are so engaging, it can be overlooked.
There is a wonderful movie – a rare, positive representation of Latinos in film – produced in the 80s called “Stand and Deliver” starring Edward James Olmos. It is the true story of a math teacher in Los Angeles who dared to teach calculus to the kids in his barrio school. He also imparted snippets of Latino history to his class, notably that the Mayans independently invented the concept of zero in 4 A.D. Leguizamo also references that fact and it contributes to the powerful conclusion of the play.
Running Time: Two hours with no intermission.
Advisory: Adult language and content.
“John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons” runs through November 23, 2019, at National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call 202-628-6161 or go online.
Tour information can be found here.
Reference books can be found here.