Tales From A Johnny Legs Fangirl

by Raquel Sanchez, Guest Writer

pLAywriting in the city

Fly across the Atlantic before I’m 35…check.

Get my Master’s Degree before I’m 40…check.

See John Leguizamo on stage…double check.

These are just a few things on my bucket list. No biggee, except that for this fangirl, that last item made me internally SQUEE. I have been a fan of John Leguizamo’s stage work since I first saw Spic-O-Rama on HBO in 1993. Never had I been so grateful that my parents had cable. Spic-O-Rama opened my eyes to the wonders of solo work. After Spic-O-Rama, HBO graced me with Freak, then Sexaholix. These two pieces took his work to a more personal level. Johnny Legs was not hiding behind characterizations of his family and neighborhood; he was exposing his most vulnerable self, and winning audiences with his candidness.  John Leguizamo’s work showed me how a single artist can fill a performance space by embodying their work with truth.

On October 7th I got to fulfill my dream. I scored tickets to see his latest solo work. Hey, so I didn’t go to NYC to see him, but Johnny Legs decided to bring Ghetto Klown to my hometown for a 17-day engagement. Directed by Fisher Stevens, John Leguizamo performed Ghetto Klown at the Lyceum Theatre in NYC to sold-out houses. In Los Angeles the setting was great, The Ricardo Montalban Theatre.  I knew that Mr. Roarke would one day make one of my fantasies come true. I arrived at the theatre full of anticipation and looked at the comic strip graphic of his face on the poster next to the box office and grinned. I was here. My friends and I lucked out when we got bumped up to orchestra seats, now I had a front stage view of Johnny Legs at work.

The show began with a pumped up hip hop beat. A screen lit up on stage with the words Ghetto Klown and Johnny Legs’ shadow appeared dancing behind the screen. The use of multi-media in this show is amazing, props to the scenic and set designers as well as to the sound and tech people. John Leguizamo started out strong and his energy was electrifying. He flowed from one story to the next, introducing us to his mother, father, best friend, girlfriends, wives, agents, mentors, Hollywood colleagues and my favorite, his grandfather, “Que Viva la revolucion, papito!” with such eloquence, honesty and compassion. He was reflective, self-deprecating, egocentric and open.

I felt like I was reading from the pages of his personal journal. I couldn’t tear my eyes away because I didn’t want to miss a thing. Although some will say the show was too long, I never felt that it was a 2-hour show. The transitions were wonderful, and through the use of sound and the screen, John Leguizamo took us through 4 decades. He clued us in to the last 47 years his life, the good, the bad and the ugly. He showed me how a solo artist lays it on the line le guste a quien no le guste.

Truth, justice and the American way. Ok…maybe not, but John Leguizamo’s work is raw, honest, magnetic, filled with heart and sandunga. I find him vulnerable, funny and fearless. His work moves me and inspires me all at once. His ability to take his life and portray it on stage regardless of the consequences assuages some of my fears as an artist working on her first very personal solo piece. John Leguizamo lit a small spark in my soul that took almost 20 years to begin taking shape. Yes, it has taken twenty years for me to find the courage to write my own solo piece. I don’t know if it was something I completely aspired to do, but I do remember daydreaming about it after I saw some of Johnny Legs’ work in television. But my daydreams were always incomplete and half-assed, telling the truth or a version of the truth was still too much truth for me to tell about myself and my family. It was more of a, “if I tell ya, I’ll hafta kill ya” feeling. Now, several years later, I want to tell you the truth and when I picture my story on stage, I aspire to be as raw and honest as Johnny Legs is in his work. I don’t want to bullshit. I want it to be a journey.

Raquel Sanchez is an actor and writer from the San Fernando Valley. She has a BA in Theatre and a Master’s Degree in Chican@ Studies from Cal State Northridge.  Raquel has been performing on stage since the age of thirteen. Some of her production credits include: The House of Bernarda Alba, Rosalila, Real Women Have Curves and House on Mango Street. Raquel recently completed a performance narrative on schizophrenia called ‘Insanity is Relative: A Sister Journey’ for her Master’s thesis and is working with Luis Alfaro and East LA Rep to develop it into a solo performance.