John Leguizamo in "Ghetto Klown," opening March 22, 2011 at...

John Leguizamo in "Ghetto Klown," opening March 22, 2011 at the Lyceum Theatre in Manhattan. CREDIT: Carol Rosegg Credit: Carol Rosegg Photo/

John Leguizamo is a gifted chameleon with -- as he warned in the title of his debut solo 20 years ago -- his own special nonstop mambo mouth. He bounces off anecdotes and observations as a balloon careens around the room until the air is out, except that he never does seem to run out of air, or energy, or the ability to seduce an audience into the contradictory emotions that drive the public revelations of his life.

What he does not have, alas, is an editor. "Ghetto Klown," the fifth chapter in what has become a live-onstage autobiography, runs almost 21/2 hours, including intermission. The length would not be an issue, except that his solo has compelling material for a 90-minute treat.

Directed with wit if not economy by Fisher Stevens, the monologue has a first act that reminds us, right away, how much Leguizamo has been missed since "Sexaholic . . . A Love Story" in 2002. Although stories about his brutal and disappointed Puerto Rican father and his unpredictable Colombian mother are familiar from his previous shows, he manages to find yet another funny-sad spin on his hard childhood and unlikely acting career.

He begins the show by telling us, "I love spilling my guts out for you. You're like free therapy." What we could not guess, however, is that he means it. As his movie and TV careers rise and fall and rise and fall, his amusing stories devolve first into too much information, which morphs into such psychobabble as: "I didn't feel like I was worthy to be loved" and "How could I be there for them if I couldn't be there for me?"

But still. . . . From the start, Leguizamo was rightly identified as the first Latin performance artist/stand-up monologuist with crossover star potential. As he rules the stage in velour sweats and a face of nonstop subtext, he tells touching stories about his mentors and good bratty ones about Al Pacino and Patrick Swayze. "Success is weird, man," he says with endearing understatement.

Psychological turmoil, self-doubt, anger and self-love have always been stuff of good theater. But when he shows Playbills from his previous shows on the billboard-size screen and repeats why they were important, the manipulation that is entertainment feels instead like emotional blackmail.



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