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Leguizamo returns for ‘Diary of a Madman’

BY LORRI SABBAN

Contributor

Fast talking, raw and hilarious, Emmy Award-winning actor, comedian and producer, John Leguizamo, heats up the stage with his one-man show, “Diary of a Madman” at the La Jolla Playhouse for a second run starting this week.

Leguizamo, a Latin fusion of Colombian, Puerto Rican and Italian blended with some Lebanese, is a feisty comedian who takes the audience on a high octane, thrill ride. In the “show,” he shares his comical memories of growing up in Queens and his freewheeling journey into the world of theater and Hollywood, while describing funny and tormented experiences of fighting for his authentic self to be taken seriously.

Leguizamo has appeared in some 75 films including Brian DePalma’s “Carlito’s Way,” as Benny Blanco opposite Al Pacino; “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar” as the inexperienced drag princess Chi-Chi; and co-starred as Toulouse-Lautrec in Baz Luhrman’s “Moulin Rouge!”

Have you enjoyed the Page to Stage workshop process at the La Jolla Playhouse?

I’ve always done Q&A, but it was myself asking the questions. I like somebody else asking the questions, that way, people say what they really mean. Arnold Englemen, the producer of Westbeth, and Eddie Izzard, among others, said this would be a fun process and I love process. I live for process. End result not so much.

Is your goal to take the show to Broadway?

Among a few goals. I’d love to go back to Broadway and someday win a Tony. I think the one-man show as play is not as respected, even though I think it’s a much tougher medium because you have to entertain and inform and elevate with less words and less limbs than a regular play, but you have to move the same amount of hearts and touch the same amount of souls.

What’s the current theater climate in New York City?

It’s very commercial right now. It’s not the experimental wild days of the ‘80s. Off-Broadway is very dead because Manhattan is prohibitably too expensive for smaller shows, but I think the recession might make it a thriving creative hot bed for writers and performance art once again.

Which comedians and actors do you relate to most?

Hey, I have my heroes: Eric Bogosian who put the sex and anger into the one-man show; Richard Prior who put the voices and characters to every moment in life; Spaulding Gray who created the autobio one-man show; Lily Tomlin who turned it into a play; and Whoopi who put the ghetto and poetry together ... without these hero/mentors I wouldn’t be. I took a little of each and turned it into an autobiographical play. It’s a play beginning, middle and end ... linear ... a journey and look into my life. I’m more of an actor who is funny than a comedian who can act.

What movies have you seen recently?

I have very obscure tastes. I like old classics like “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” “Hurlyburly,” and foreign films like “The Secret in Their Eyes,” “Prophet,” “White Ribbon” was my favorite movie last year. “The Maid,” too, was brilliant. I’m not into commercial movies. They depress me ... they have no life and make me feel like the living dead.

Are you working on any films?

Yes, I just shot a brilliant film called “The Vanishing on 7th Street” by Brad Anderson with Thandie Newton and Hayden Christensen. I play a film operator at a movie chain. It’s a very twisted, intellectual horror flick that brings up the premise: If we don’t think we exist, do we stop existing?

And I’m about to shoot “Lincoln Lawyer” with the talented Brad Furman, starring Matthew McConaughey. I play a bail bondsman. And a dream project — the first movie I wrote based on all my plays or my life called “Fugly,” shoots this September in New York.

What do you want your audience to realize?

More than anything, they better walk away knowing that I tore a piece of my soul, I lacerated my psyche, to bring this about. What they see is not fluff or disposable, but I hope it’s something that stays with them and makes them think deep and hard. But that’s after they laughed their asses off. I’m a smuggler of hard topics. That’s it. I’m not an artist. I’m a smuggler.

Lorri Sabban has seen Leguizamo’s one-man shows “Mambo Mouth,” for which he won an OBIE Award and Outer Critics Award; “Spic-O-Rama”; and “Freak,” which won him Drama Desk Awards in New York City.

If you go

  • What: John Leguizamo’s ‘Diary of a Madman’
  • When: 8 p.m. May 23-29
  • Where: La Jolla Playhouse, Shank Theatre, UCSD
  • Tickets: $30; (858) 550-1010,

lajollaplayhouse.org