Whether it be on the TV we watch on Saturday mornings as kids or on the presidential debate stage we watch as we become adults, representation matters.
“Latin History For Morons” tackles the issue of representation with no fear. This production is not Leguizamo’s first in the arena of solo performance, as he has written and starred in his own award-winning works including “Mambo Mouth” (1991) and “Freak” (1998).
Born in Bógota, Columbia and raised in Jackson Heights, New York City, Leguizamo’s work deals with themes of Latinx identity, fused with a witty, crass sense of humor and his authentic experiences. “Latin History for Morons” is no exception.
The show was developed with Berkeley Repertory Theatre and performed at the La Jolla Playhouse, Public Theater, and on Broadway. The production was nominated for the Tony Award for Best New Play in 2018 and Leguizamo himself won a special Tony Award for his contributions to American theatre.
In “Latin History for Morons,” Leguizamo’s desire to connect with his son fueled a search for him to find a historically significant Latinx figure for his son’s ‘hero’ project. The following two hours were an incredible feat of storytelling, as Leguizamo combined several narratives together to create a stunning piece of work.
Leguizamo played the role of “professor” on a stage complete with an illusionistic yet functional and dynamic classroom set. He talked about the downfalls of major Latinx civilizations, as well as pointing out the crucial contribution Latinx people have had on history. All the while, the story was infused with his own experiences, complete with impressions of people from his life and journey through his Latin identity. Despite it being a one man show, Leguizamo created a myriad of distinctly different characters. Whether he used bawdy, hilarious physical storytelling to recount an Aztec battle or wrote significant dates on the chalkboard, every moment was compelling.
The technical design of the show drew the audience in immediately. The lighting design by Alexander V. Nichols did an excellent job of differentiating the moments that make the piece as multifarious and layered as it is. The scenic design by Rachel Hauck provided a strong sense of place as well. All of the elements worked together to project a sense of Latinx culture mirroring the authenticity of Leguizamo’s own experience.
More impressive than the design aspects was the relevance of the message to our present day. Leguizamo clearly has a passion for learning, which he demonstrated with his surplus of information on Latin history. But he made sure to emphasize that this knowledge was hard-won, and a lot of it remains in the shadowy corners of most world histories. More importantly, the resolution to the show revealed how important it is that these parts of history are brought to light, uplifting the people who have previously been ignored in archival history.
The empowerment transferred from Leguizamo’s stage to the audience. In a post-show talkback, a woman began to well up with tears as she told Leguizamo the difficulty in walking the line as a parent between protecting and generating pride for their child’s own identity. The impact the show had on her made one thing abundantly clear: representation matters.
“Latin History for Morons” ran through October 20th at the Ahmanson Theatre. More information can be found here.