Time to get schooled

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"Latin History for Morons" Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.

The frame for John Leguziamo’s latest one man show is an eighth grade history textbook … well that and a bit of racist bullying. In “Latin History for Morons” his son comes crying from school about some white boy who, having descended from white generals dating back to the civil war, told him he was a ‘beaner’ and king of nothing.

Like any dad, this sets Mr. Leguziamo off. No one is going to treat his son this way. Unlike most dads, Mr. Leguziamo embarks on a nerdy quest to find his son a Latin hero to stand up to those false claims that his boy isn’t American.

This turns out to be not quite so easy.

His son’s eight grade history text makes no mention of the Latino contributions to our country. It doesn’t even bother to mention that “our” country might be a convenient fiction in the first place.

Mr. Leguziamo is going to school us. He’s going to drop all the knowledge about the great Latin civilizations that were decimated to make those confederate generals possible. He’s got the blackboard. He’s got the numbers and he’s on a mission. Hell, there are even footnotes and, if you pay close attention, a bibliography. He’s going to try and teach us everything the culture hasn’t about Latin heroes.

It’s an essential lesson, and as he points out more than once, one that this country seems to have willfully chosen not to learn - especially right now.

He’s breaking down the importance of representation, not just for his son but for all of us. Through his own “ghetto rage”, as he calls it - he chronicles the costs of having a history erased and racist lies filling the void.

Now, before you go expecting a dry, high-minded lecture - remember this is John Leguziamo. In service of this noble cause, he employs a comedian’s grab-bag of stereotypes, homophobia, and more than a little misplaced machismo. He’ll offend you even as he enlightens you.

But the show in some ways is about the limitations of all that machismo. He gets it... maybe his tools aren’t up to today’s challenge? Amidst this history lesson, our dual journey is one of a father who’s failing his son. The show will grab you on two levels, one macro about entire civilizations being erased and the other more micro about a father wanting better for his son and not knowing how to provide it.

It’s powerful stuff, even when Mr. Leguziamo undercuts it with a joke.

“Latin History for Morons” in Los Angeles is one of those shows that from the opening hoots with laughter - culturally maps the audience. You feel where you are and who’s here with you. Those spanish jokes - you hear them playing to the balcony. You feel the difference between the audience that came to the Ahmanson and the audience that came to see Mr. Leguziamo. It’s a balcony play.

And those folks in the balcony? If the theater has a future audience, they’re it. That culture that’s been ignoring Latin heroes - the theatre is part of that culture. Until that changes, we’re the morons that are going to keep needing to be schooled.

“Latin History for Morons” plays at the Ahmanson Theatre through October 20th.