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A Reflective, Charismastic John Leguizamo Performs His 'Ghetto Klown' in Hollywood

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John Leguizamo in 'Ghetto Klown' (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
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John Leguizamo's latest autobiographical one-man show, "Ghetto Klown," the fifth in a series that started with "Mambo Mouth" in 1991, captures the hyperbolically charismatic performer in a reflective, almost analytic, mode. Of course even a reflective and analytical Leguizamo on his own operates at a more frenetic pace than a pack of hounds picking up the scent of their prey.

Now a happily settled-down family man, secure in his professional success, Leguizamo looks back at his life's path from the shadow of the 7 train in Jackson Heights, Queens, to Broadway and Hollywood, as well as many of the people who helped and hindered him along the way. While some of these characters, such as his parents, are familiar from previous shows, Leguizamo also takes shots here at some of the boldface names he's worked with, unleashing spot-on impressions of Brian De Palma, Al Pacino, Benicio del Toro, Patrick Swayze and Steven Seagal, among others. Childhood friends, acting teachers, agents, girlfriends and ex-wives, or Leguizamo's presented versions of them, also get similarly skewered.

After a near-perfect first act filled largely with self-contained comedic narrative gems, "Ghetto Klown" starts to meander a bit after intermission as Leguizamo's vignettes become a bit more self-indulgent and expository as well as ungenerous to their subjects (including, to be sure, himself). To some extent these lapses in the performer's control over his stories mirror the uncomfortable real-life struggles with the capricious demands of family, friends, and colleagues which he describes. Evidently Leguizamo feels he has some explaining to do in what he tells us at the outset is a public therapy session for him. But as in real life, the explaining isn't consistently as sharp or exuberant as the just trying to make it without always making sense of it.

Still, these criticisms feel like quibbles about a show and a performance that grabbed us from the moment Leguizamo first stepped forward in his Mets cap, running through his theater warm-up exercises, and didn't let go until the lights came back up. The guy just possesses the stage with a spirit and an energy like no one else's in the game today.

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"Ghetto Klown" plays Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 5 through October 16 at the Ricardo Montalban Theater. Tickets $40 and up. Half-price tickets for a few dates available on goldstar.com.