Review: John Leguizamo’s Brilliant “Latin History for Morons”

John Leguizamo in “Latin History for Morons. Photo: Matthew Murphy.

The prolific, Tony Award-winner Leguizamo has been entertaining us with landmark performances like To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar for more than three decades, and still hasn’t lost the edgy comic timing of his younger days. He returns with a long-overdue and indispensable work of genius, but this time around, with hard-earned gravitas. Now older, he allows himself to be more vulnerable, basing the show on his personal experiences and going as far as mining some hilarious episodes with his therapist. Lest you think this is some kind of preachy, narcissistic journey, Latin History for Morons is about the love of a father for his son and the indomitable efforts he makes to buttress him through a particularly insecure phase of his middle school life.

John Leguizamo in “Latin History for Morons.” Photo: Matthew Murphy.

“My son was in middle school and he was being bullied — racially profiled — and instead of having him beat the bullies up, I wanted him to fight them with words and information and facts,” he says. “So I started doing a lot of research, and the thing that happened was I was the one being un-moronized and de-stupefied and un-dummificated.”

Designer, Rachel Hauck provides an effective stage setting, a makeshift classroom where Leguizamo, sexy but frumpier, is the believable teacher, and we, the audience, his easily enraptured students. The spell is cast easily as Leguizamo uses a revisionist lens to expose the shocking gaps in Latino history — everything from its forgotten and erased heroes to suffered atrocities. His message is simple and resonating — without cultural pride, there isn’t a way to have a strong foothold in a world of bullies and bigots. Is it any wonder then that his pacifist son, struggling with an assignment on picking a Latino hero, is so tormented?

Recognizing that he himself has no mentionable Latino role models (a therapy breakthrough), Leguizamo first educates himself, using some formidably good sources (1491 by Charles C. Mann, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn) while literally trashing some revered ones (Guns, Germs and Steel by Diamond), and then, does his darndest to infuse this wealth into his resistant son. In the process, we are treated to a thought-provoking lesson, but not without an exuberant dose of comedy, dancing, and Leguizamo’s classic impersonation gifts. “I always felt so othered and second-class and all of a sudden I was like, wait a minute, how is this possible with all these contributions from Latin people?” Leguizamo asks.

— G. Dhalla

History for Morons is playing the CTGLA Ahmanson Theatre through October 20th. Tickets HERE.