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Spic-O-Rama

A highlight of last fall's theater season, "Spic-O-Rama" marked a significant advance for writer and solo performer John Leguizamo. While his "Mambo Mouth" two years earlier (also telecast on HBO) offered a seemingly fragmented, high-speed tour of the barrio, "Spic-O-Rama" features one Latino family preparing for a son's wedding. The results are unceasingly funny even though the humor, as if filtered through ground glass, draws blood.

A highlight of last fall’s theater season, “Spic-O-Rama” marked a significant advance for writer and solo performer John Leguizamo. While his “Mambo Mouth” two years earlier (also telecast on HBO) offered a seemingly fragmented, high-speed tour of the barrio, “Spic-O-Rama” features one Latino family preparing for a son’s wedding. The results are unceasingly funny even though the humor, as if filtered through ground glass, draws blood.

Leguizamo’s characterizations have prompted criticism for their indulgence in stereotype — a charge that places him firmly in the ranks of the great satirists, exactly where he belongs. He begins with a disclaimer to the effect that the family represented is fictional; if it bears any resemblance to yours, you’re strongly advised to seek professional help.

But Leguizamo’s greatest accomplishment is that these family members, while unmistakably rooted in Latino life, are recognizable to everyone.

He’s an astonishingly seductive performer, changing effortlessly from role to role. There’s Miggy, a rubber-boned 9-year-old who prays Santa will bring him a normal family, and his siblings — Krazy Willie, self-described hero of Desert Storm and the groom-to-be; and bleached-blond actor-aspirant Raffi, who fancies himself Laurence Olivier’s bastard son — as well as parents Gladyz, a brazen hussy who feeds her infant Diet Coke, and Felix, a philandering drunk whose schizophrenic wedding toast could be a whole new form of child abuse.

While Leguizamo’s genius for impersonation comes through shiningly in this abbreviated presentation, TV robs the performance of the necessary distancing that even an intimate theater provides. This will surely heighten the discomfort of the show’s critics. For the rest, “Spic-O-Rama” offers another opportunity to watch a major talent on the rise.

Spic-O-Rama

(Sat. (15), 10-11 p.m., HBO)

Production: Filmed at the American Place Theater, N.Y., by House of Fun Prods., HBO Comedy Hour. Exec producer, Michael S. Bregman; producer, Jeff Ross; creator-writer, John Leguizamo; director, Peter Askin.

Crew: Camera, Ralf Bode; editor , Jon Vesey; scenic design, Loy Arcenas; lighting, Natasha Katz; sound, John Hampton; .

Cast: With: John Leguizamo.

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