Theater Review: ‘Ghetto Klown’

April 4, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

A FINE STORYTELLER: John Leguizamo in his latest one-man show 'Ghetto Klown.'  (Courtesy of Carol Rosegg)
A FINE STORYTELLER: John Leguizamo in his latest one-man show 'Ghetto Klown.' (Courtesy of Carol Rosegg)
NEW YORK—John Leguizamo can certainly tell a story—and often he’s on the receiving end of the joke. He saunters onstage at the start of his latest one-man show Ghetto Klown and tries to do the splits—only to stop half-way. “Not gonna happen,” the 46-year-old performer notes ruefully.

“Ghetto Klown” is the fourth one-man show Leguizamo has written and performed in. Unlike his earlier efforts in this vein, which focused mainly on his personal life and upbringing, Ghetto Klown delves more into his professional career as an actor, writer, and performer.

Leguizamo talks about his television debut in an episode of Miami Vice (“I looked like a Latin vampire”), his encounters with Patrick Swayze on the set of To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, his altercations and disagreements with Kurt Russell and Steven Seagal in Executive Decision, working with Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way, and dealing with Sean Penn’s physical abuse (it was part of the script) in Casualties of War.

Leguizamo also slides in various issues regarding his family life, such as how his father didn’t want him to be an actor. (His dad thought he could do better.) He mentions his early comedy writing team, and relationships with various friends, women, and hangers-on are also chronicled.

There is a bit of discrepancy with the timeline of the events touched on, especially if one has seen his earlier shows, but there’s no denying he can tell a great story.

There’s a continual “sticking it to the man” attitude running throughout the piece, Leguizamo casting himself as the sort of angry young man trying to find his place in the world and making a lot of missteps along with the way. Naturally invested in the subject matter, he literally throws himself into the work, becoming the characters involved as he relives the incidents described.

His best moments come not from a funny story or interesting impressions (he does a great Al Pacino), but with quiet moments of realization. For example, when he first realized it was possible for him to become an actor; the feeling he got when he first starting reading scripts of great plays; and when he describes the people who helped push him along in his career.

Another good moment is when Leguizamo recounts the time he broke into the conductor’s car on a subway and started doing stand-up, an idea used here as a sort of bookend to the play.

Through all the ups and downs detailed, Leguizamo doesn’t spare himself when it comes to the mistakes he’s made. These various highs and lows help to humanize the situations presented and make them more accessible to the audience.

Set by Happy Massee of a city rooftop works well; lighting by Jen Schriever is fine; sound design by Peter Fitzgerald is very enjoyable; and the projection work by Aaron Gonzalez was good. The entire evening was quite competently directed by Fisher Stevens.

In Ghetto Klown, Leguizamo offers up an enjoyable chronology, never really delving too deep, but going far enough to make it all quite interesting.

Ghetto Klown
Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Closes: July 10

Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent of the London publication The Stage.