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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Steven M. Levy and Sean Sweeny for Canonbury Productions Limited
Arnold Engleman for WestBest Entertainment in association with Soho Theatre present

 

Ghetto Klown

 

Photo by Carol Rosegg

 

Written and performed by John Leguizamo

 

Directed by Fisher Stevens

 

Charing Cross Theatre

 

25 October - 12 November 2011
 

Energy abounds from the get-go in this “essentially true” autobiographical telling of the Hollywood history and lively personal life of John Leguizamo. In this, his London debut, Leguizamo wants to take the audience into his world as he lived it and makes an early admission that perhaps he should be the paying his audience for what he essentially finds a therapeutic exercise. This is an early indication that the show will be part generous entertainment, part self-indulgent story-telling. In a relentlessly energetic performance Leguizamo will play everyone involved in his story, each one as convincingly as the next.

 In this one-man show, a huge billboard-style screen, with impressive projection design by Aaron Gonzales, is something of a co-star. It provides everything from photographic evidence attesting to the tale of the moment and a simulated subway carriage, a key location at the start of Leguizamo's acting career. The vigorous dancing elements to the show are most impressively performed when silhouetted behind this billboard, enhancing every fluid movement. Sound, designed by Peter Fitzgerald, is another absolutely essential component of the show and it is executed with wit and precision, binding the story together and ensuring that Leguizamo is not as alone on stage as he appears.

Comic sketches of Hollywood associates Leguizamo encountered throughout his career induced the most raucous response from the crowd, Steven Segal, Al Pacino and Baz Luhrmann are all portrayed excellently, their trademark accents and behaviours are manipulated with ease. Leguizamo's grandfather, or “touchstone” receives the most endearing portrayal which attests to the fondness between them, an affinity which was apparently absent in Leguizamo's relationship with his father. The advise offered by his grandfather, always well-meaning, generally provides comic results at Leguizamo's expense. Most notably, the suggestion that only pale Latinos get television roles, and that John should “stay out of the sun, walk on the shaded side of the street”, culminates in a photograph of him looking like a “Latin vampire” on set.

The most poignant advise bestowed on Leguizamo comes from his father very early on, who asserts that “everybody out there is a Judas”. This statement is all the more affecting in retrospect when it transpires that his parents have attempted to file a lawsuit against him based on his representation of them in previously successful Broadway shows. This clear illustration of the pitfalls of Art as “exorcism” does not seem to have dampened Leguizamo's enthusiasm for it, and this show is as intimate in family detail as it is in that of his marital affairs. The collapse of his friendship with childhood stalwart friend Ray is represented with the same honesty.

The set, designed by Happy Massee, is a stand-alone triumph with exact use of props that are all utilised in the narrative. An apartment block in the background proves both atmospheric and very functional. A streetlight at the edge of the stage symbolises the outside space needed for one of Leguizamo's confrontations with his father without encroaching on the intimacy of the main set. Brash colour is complimented by Jen Scriever's impressive lighting design which consistently heightens the energy of the performance and the suitability of the set.

There is no doubt that the performance is passionate and enthusiastic and the whole tale provokes interest, but the humour and the pains of life illustrated do not always marry especially well and can prove quite challenging. For example, the portrayal of Leguizamo's first love is a brilliant, unceremonious romp compounded by a wonderful New York drawl. Then, in the second act, he applies all kinds of tortured artist clichés to his future wife, concluding rather seriously that neither he nor she was really deserving of being loved.

Leguizamo clearly has a dedicated fan base, some of whom found every moment riotous and responded with verbal nods to each role reference, however minor, that was mentioned. This led to a semi-standing ovation which embodied the response to this London stage debut for Leguizamo and perhaps reflected the slight awkwardness of an enforced union within Ghetto Klown between his boisterous comic sketches on the one hand and sincere soul-searching on the other.

 
Photo by Carol Rosegg
 
Box Office:020 7907 7075
http://www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/
Charing Cross Theatre
 The Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NL
 Tickets: £29.50 & £24.50
 
 
 

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