The documentary "Tales from a Ghetto Klown" profiles actor/comedian John Leguizamo's often-frustrated efforts to mount his most recent successful one-man Broadway show.
The award-winning feature is part of PBS's Summer Arts Festival, which spotlights diversity from across the nation and around the world. It airs July 13 at 10 p.m. EDT (check local listings).
As Leguizamo attempts to book a venue for his show, "Ghetto Klown," and prove to Broadway powerhouses that his fifth solo project in two decades is worthy of New York City marquees, he unravels the difficulties Latino actors face when trying to validate their multiple talents and achievements on stage and screen.
At the core of his routine, the 47-year-old New York-raised son of a Colombian mother and Puerto Rican father speaks about his multicultural identity and his climb to be recognized as a versatile star on Broadway and in movies.
"The film is all about bringing John's one-man show to Broadway," director Ben De Jesus explains. "What I like about the film is that it shows the struggle he goes through. There are no guarantees to success no matter who you are."
That message keeps the documentary afloat. Leguizamo's humor, physicality and anecdotes construct a unique perspective.
As a serious bicultural playwright, he raises the stakes when he takes his English-driven antics 2,500 miles from New York to Bogota, Colombia, where he performs the two-hour soliloquy in Spanish. To expand his household lexicon, Leguizamo spent six months with a tutor polishing his delivery in order to accommodate a young and more sophisticated South American audience.
"I haven't worked this hard in decades," the actor says in the documentary.
Leguizamo exposes his soul on stage, recounting the ebb and flow of his career. His anecdotes involving his father, mother and grandfather add definition and humor to the cultural motif.
"'When I waz young, we didn't had television. We hadda window,' " Leguizamo says, mimicking his grandfather. "'We didn't had news. We just open the window.' "
Instead of allowing the cultural elements to unravel naturally, documentarian De Jesus interjects the voices of Fisher Stevens, director of the Broadway play, and its executive producer, Arnold Engelman, to analyze unnecessarily a dialogue that carries itself. No need for interpretation.
New York Times critic Charles Isherwood commented in his review of the play: "It's nice that Mr. Leguizamo is ultimately able to work through his issues with intimacy and establish a family, but 'Ghetto Klown' continues to lose altitude throughout much of the second act, as we begin to feel that we are simply attending a narrated slide presentation of his professional highlights and personal pratfalls."
Leguizamo's play garnered recognition, including a 2011 Drama Desk Award.