Thursday, March 24, 2011

Klowning Around


John Leguizamo in Ghetto Klown (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Ghetto Klown

Written and performed by John Leguizamo

Directed by Fisher Stevens

Previews began February 28, 2011

Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street

With Ghetto Klown, his first solo performance since 2002’s Sexaholix, John Leguizamo proves that he currently has no peer in one-man shows, now that Spalding Gray is no longer around and Eric Bogosian has “retired” to concentrate on acting roles in TV, movies and onstage.

For his latest, Leguizamo performs what’s essentially a retrospective of his earlier shows, with new material about his recent personal and professional life thrown in for good measure. Ghetto Klown begins with Leguizamo’s funniest material, as he talks about growing up in Queens (“the scrotum of New York City,” he calls it, showing a subway map to point that out and promising the audience members that they will never look at the map the same way again), attending school and getting the performing bug in a neighborhood where not acting “street” was frowned upon.

Much of Ghetto Klown is taken up by Leguizamo’s talking about several of his movie roles, from his first big break in Casualties of War and his stint opposite Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way to his dressing as a drag queen alongside Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar. Although these anecdotes are amusing (and his impressions of Pacino and director Brian DePalma are dead-on), he seems to be stretching out thin material to extend his show to 2-½ hours.

Leguizamo is an onstage whirlwind, dancing, running around, changing voices and accents easily, which keeps his show moving even when the material slows him down. Unfortunately, the weakest section comes in his second-act recounting his meeting and finally winning his current wife. It’s great that the actor has found solace with his family (he has two children) and can produce a new performance piece like Ghetto Klown which takes loving swipes at his parents, closest friend and his beloved grandfather.

But the onstage wildness of earlier works from Freak to Sexaholix is missing: inner peace and serenity doesn’t translate well to the stage, and Ghetto Klown (unevenly paced by director Fisher Stevens), for all its scathing humor, feels too conventional, too safe.

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