Laughing through Tears on La Raza Chronicles, KPFA fm.
It was an exciting premiere- an opening night at a local theater, The Berkeley Rep, featuring a Hollywood star, John Leguizamo in a solo comic performance about one of La Raza Chronicles’ favorite topics; “Latin History for Morons.” The lobby was packed with some of our favorite people. We spotted a prominent Chicano poet in the front row, as we took our seats and joined in the thunderous applause welcoming this amazing and versatile artist, John Leguizamo, who acts and writes for stage, comedy clubs, TV, and films.
For the next 90 minutes, we sat in gripped attention as he spoke, danced, clowned, scribbled and misspelled on a black board, the dates and histories of the Indigenous people of the Americas. At the same time he revealed a family story with fascinating characters at a mad pace. His antics brought howls of laughter. At moments, he appeared as a stand-up comic with allusions to popular street culture, but he always returned to his story-line about his own family. The plot focuses on his adolescent son who needs to report on a Latino hero for school, while confronting school yard and classroom bullying. His portrayals of his wife, mother, daughter, uncle, childhood friend and other characters pass through this accomplished actor, even Stephen Hawking and Sigmund Freud make an appearance. Aztec and Inca empires rise and fall; the Caribbean Taino people diseased with syphilis. We are left to surmise their enslavement and torture.
No person or institution is exempt from this performer’s outrageous humour. The laughs are coming by the minute midst personal, familial and tribal disasters, Yet, as an audience we are aware that this is theater and not stand-up comedy, although Leguizamo breaks the fourth wall tradition to address the audience directly. Perhaps out of habit as a frequent comedy club performer.
According to the Berkeley Rep Magazine, it is the Berkeley Rep’s artistic director, Puerto Rican Tony Tacone, who helped Leguizamo through transitioning the original night club sketch into a one-person theatre piece. This was mainly done through developing the actor-playwright’s personal family storyline into the history. Over the years, Leguizamo had been amassing historic information, but never finding a vehicle to present it. Utilizing the Berkeley rep’s lab project, called the “Ground Floor: a center for development of new work”, the artist was able to find the support and space to people his volumes of facts and dates with the ongoing saga of his family facing these facts in the racially divided, ambiguous USA at this moment – when daily Black and Brown men are killed in the street by police, Latino youth drop out of school at high rates and Donald Trump vilifies Mexican immigrants.
The result is a “must-see” piece of live theater that runs through August, 14 at the Berkeley Rep Theater in Downtown Berkeley. “Latin history for Morons” brings Latino history in the USA from out of the shdows and into the spotlight with humour, and the magic and excitement of live theatre. Tickets available at <berkeleyrep.org>.
This has been Nina Serrano for La Raza Chronicles.