John Leguizamo delivers engaging 'Latin History for Morons' despite tech glitches
"Latin History for Morons" -- ★ ★ ★
"That's live theater for you, folks," said a slightly exasperated John Leguizamo at the Tuesday opening of "Latin History for Morons."
Leguizamo wrangled with a couple of music cue glitches at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre that temporarily threw him off his game. But the Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor/playwright powered on to deliver an engaging and commanding performance.
Leguizamo's acclaimed one-man show, in Chicago as part of a national tour, is more than a comic history lesson shared by a self-proclaimed "ghetto scholar." Working with director Tony Taccone, Leguizamo weaves through the personal story of his haphazard attempts to help his bullied middle-school son take pride in his Latin heritage and find historical heroes.
It's not always an uplifting ride. Even though Leguizamo hilariously takes on multiple personas to make his case, the history itself comes tinged with tragedy.
For instance, Leguizamo self-diagnoses "ancestral PTSD" after recounting the falls of the Aztec and Inca civilizations in the 1600s. The "ethno-cide" of Native American populations after the introduction of European diseases adds to the horror.
Leguizamo's son motivates his quest to learn, but the show turns out to be an artistic therapy session for his own educational odyssey. Leguizamo finds many instances of Latin figures who have been omitted in standard history books, so his zeal to share facts and figures makes perfect sense.
"Latin History for Morons" is already available as a 2018 Netflix special, and it has been adapted for a forthcoming Audible audio book to be released this November. So the main reason to catch this tour is to see the celebrated film and TV star live and up close.
That live factor, however, is tempered on tour. A large video screen has been added to simulcast and enlarge every one of Leguizamo's reactions in close-up, much like the projections you see in arena shows for concerts and standup comedians.
This may be a nice nod to crowds seated in the far reaches of the balcony. But the screen ends up dominating designer Rachel Hauck's cluttered set that suggests a professorial research project run amok, and becomes a "where do I look" attention splitter.
Yet Leguizamo remains a magnetic performer, and his enthusiasm is contagious. It's clear that he wants audiences to learn beyond the show (there is an entire "Syllabus" page of the Playbill listing books cited in the performance).
The show adds to Leguizamo's long line of envelope-pushing, multicharacter one-man stage shows that started in the 1990s. Now in his 50s and approaching "elder statesman" status, he gives back with "Latin History for Morons," an entertaining way to empower younger generations to explore their heritage and history.
• • •
Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1; 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; through Nov. 3
Running time: About 110 minutes, no intermission
Parking: Area pay garages and limited metered street parking
Rating: For teenagers and older; features strong language including ethnic/cultural epithets