John Leguizamo has anatomized his personal demons in several rollicking one-man shows. In his most recent one, Broadway transfer “Ghetto Klown,” he recounts his adventures in the screen trade while anatomizing his personal demons once again. Which is to say those who have never before seen this funny, cocky whirling dervish in action are most likely to find him as much of a gasser as did the Ricardo Montalban Theater’s first night audience. To repeaters the spectacle may seem overfamiliar, though the star has held back some of his A-material for this occasion.
A force of nature with the moves of a guy half his age (47), he takes assured command of the Montalban stage in equal measures of breakdancing and breaking down. A chronological structure takes him from his first discoveries of his performing bent, through early film roles and failed TV series (“House of Buggin'”) to a really cold period in the 1990s.
He’s perceptive on how his romantic (and erotic) escapades, arrested development and paralyzing father issues both informed and intruded upon his work.
Helmer Fisher Stevens coordinates some fine multimedia effects, though the show feels long and repetitious, and Stevens might have done more to block an uncomfortable sense of entitlement from creeping through.
After a fine story of how Method-obsessed Sean Penn slapped the crap out of him during repeated takes on “Casualties of War,” most of the on-set anecdotes concern Leguizamo’s ad-libbing to build up his part, thus incurring the wrath of the likes of Steven Seagal on “Executive Decision” and Al Pacino on “Carlito’s Way.” Interestingly, he directs his fullest contempt at lesser luminaries like Seagal and Kurt Russell, while giving megastars Penn and Pacino more of a pass.
Moving into a second, successful marriage and fatherhood, thesp seems to have gained perspective on those around him who did him wrong, and certainly is candid about his own failings. Yet “Ghetto Klown” suggests his voyage of self-awareness hasn’t fully come to port.
He details breaking into subway-car conductor booths to commandeer the microphone for impressions and commentary, though if he’s troubled by the consequences should folks other than future Golden Globe nominees be moved to similar mass transit misdemeanors, he never lets on.
In a closing impromptu set on the IRT, Leguizamo pays tribute to his beloved gramps – the subject of the evening’s most poignant moments by far – and finally, belatedly, to Tweety, the elderly acting coach who took him on as a raw youth but whom he’s been lampooning most of the evening. It would’ve been nice to hear a kind word for math teacher Mr. Zufas (“rhymes with doofus”), who first pointed the lad towards a performing career and slipped him Tweety’s contact info. What rhymes with ingrate?
Still, Leguizamo’s undeniable (if tempered) honesty gets us through the rough spots. As a performer, he follows his own romantic advice: “You can’t make someone love you. You just have to stalk them and hope they give in.” In “Ghetto Klown” he stalks us with practiced skill, coolly certain we’ll eventually succumb.