John Leguizamo’s ‘Ghetto Klown’ is too much been there, done that

One never becomes bored when watching the dynamic John Leguizamo on stage, but simply escaping boredom shouldn’t suffice for a night at the theater. His memoirs promote introspection, and unfortunately Ghetto Klown doesn’t hold up under the microscope.

In his latest Broadway venture, the smooth-talking, perpetually-dancing actor who has enjoyed great success in theater and film, narrates his rocky life in the Hollywood spotlight (or at least on the periphery of the spotlight). From his early years in his old Queens neighborhood to his later years in such movies as Executive Decision and Romeo + Juliet, Leguizamo takes the audience on quite the rollicking ride through stardom.

His memories are laced with humor and spot-on impressions of some of the actors he has encountered throughout his professional life. From Al Pacino to Sean Penn to an unforgettable scene with Steven Seagal, Leguizamo pulls no punches in showing off the bumps and bruises of Tinseltown.

Fisher Stevens directs the play, and he has┬ámuch of the action take place downstage center with simultaneous projections on a large screen. Leguizamo’s writing is always insightful, funny and respectful of his roots (much of the dialogue is in Spanish).

What makes Ghetto Klown ultimately a disappointing piece of theater is that Leguizamo sidetracks from his central arc and retreads stories he has already explored in previous solo shows. From his tumultuous relationship with his father to his escapades in the bedroom, it’s as if the actor is giving snapshots from each of his old shows. This may be the first solo show about past solo shows.

Also, although his career highlights are included (except Moulin Rouge and the short-lived revival of American Buffalo on Broadway), the story is far from linear. It progresses with several false starts, crossing his career and then jumping back again. In the program notes, there is a disclaimer that the stories are derived from memory (not line-for-line truth), and the evening is told in a narrative manner rather than a chronological one.

I’d forgive most of the clunky storytelling, except Leguizamo seems to hold theater as a much higher art form than most other artistic ventures, and it is in this self-avowed respect that Ghetto Klown feels uneven and redundant. It doesn’t add up to a cogent, cohesive story, which may be true to life, but trying for an audience looking for more than laughs.

The show may be a chance for the actor to exorcise some of his personal and professional demons, but it just doesn’t hold together for an entertaining 140-minute play.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Ghetto Klown
  • Directed by Fisher Stevens
  • Written by John Leguizamo
  • Starring Leguizamo
  • Playing at the Lyceum Theatre at 149 W. 45th St. in New York City
  • Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
  • Rating: ★★☆☆

Revised

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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