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Latinologues

Humor based on stereotypes keeps this comedy lively, but theatergoers who are looking for something more will leave unfulfilled.

By New York City
Rick Najera in Latinologues
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Rick Najera in Latinologues
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Stereotypes, though disdained in most instances, are often embraced by stand-up comedians. The reason is accessibility; the recognition factor. For jokes to land, they must deal with something familiar to most if not all of the spectators. Even those who take umbrage at stereotypical thinking in every other situation will howl at gags based on insulting generalizations; typically, the most vociferous thigh-slappers and rib-splittees are the very people to whom the stereotypical jokes refer.

This was certainly true of the bunch with whom I sat through Latinologues. There on the stage in front of Kevin Adams' flashy lights was Rick Najera, pretending in the evening's second monologue -- excuse me, Latinologue -- to be border patrol agent Buford Gomez. He discussed Latinos and Latinas according to their country of origin. Mentioning Santeria, he said, "A Mexican woman will just cook the chicken; a Caribbean woman will sacrifice it." The comment prompted a communal guffaw, with the heartiest response perhaps coming from the Mexicans and Caribbeans in the house.

"Puerto Ricans are legal Mexicans," Buford observed. "They are born with citizenship." He went on to make fun of Cubans, then said: "Am I forgetting anyone? Dominicans? Dominicans are Mexicans who play baseball really well." Some of these summary statements were repeated during the course of the speech, and there were several references to "Latin time," a phrase for tardiness lobbed more than once towards the few latecomers.

Depending on one's attitude toward humor dependent on stereotypes, Latinologues may or may not be a gratifying hour and a half. Of course, there's something to be said in favor of stereotypes. Like clichés, they don't spring from nowhere; they have their origins in truth. Often, these truths arise from profound pains in the soul of a society or a race, and acknowledgment of those wounds becomes another factor in accepting or rejecting what's being mooted with laughs as the objective. The more incisively a comedian can probe that pain while still tickling the funny bone, the more he or she deserves to be praised.

When a humorist like Richard Pryor or, more to the Latino point, John Leguizamo takes gravitas and makes levitas of it, that's an achievement of the first rank. By the Lequizamo yardstick, Latinologues is less than successful because the 90-minute program trades on repeating stereotypes without delving deeply into their meaning. Here's an entertainment that keeps its target audience laughing but doesn't challenge it or suggest new ways of looking at things.

Those who want their comedy to be more than reassuring will leave Latinologues feeling unfulfilled, while those who are satisfied with reassurance will be happy as clams. They'll get a big kick out of the parade of lower-class characters directed busily by Cheech Marin and played by Eugenio Derbez, Rene Lavan, Shirley A. Rumierk and Rich Najera, who also created the piece. As its title suggests, Latinologues -- subtitled "A Comedy About Life in America" -- is primarily a series of monologues. Eventually, however, the characters running around in Santiago's flamboyant costumes are revealed to be connected to each other. They even begin to join up towards the end.

Beside Buford, there's Erazmo (Derbez), first seen in front of a projection of a breached chain-link fence; busboy/Latin lover Alejandro (Lavan); Jolanda (Rumierk), who thinks she's pregnant by immaculate conception; Manic Hispanic (Najera), a Hollywood studio guy who's only recently learned that he's now Latino; Mexican Moses (Derbez), complete with beard and staff; Cuba Libre (Rumierk), a prostitute with higher aspirations; Juan Miguel Gonzalez (Lavan), father to former Miami newsmaker Elian Gonzalez (played by Najera in short pants); Mama Gomez (Derbez), mother of Buford and also José, who claims he's a vampire; Carlos (Savan), a janitor who's responsible for Jolanda's "immaculate conception"; Felix (Najera), a Colombian drug lord; and, finally, Miss Puerto Rican Day Parade (Rumierk), a threatening beauty queen.

As nightclub comics often do, these four address the audience, occasionally mocking individual members and thereby making Latinologues less a play than a boite amusement. But if Jackie Mason can wax stereotypical about Jews on a Broadway stage because the Copacabana and Lew Walters' Latin Quarter are long defunct, then this crew can do the same for their people. Buford Gomez can reduce Guatemalans to "the leprechauns of Central America." Mexican Moses can rattle off new commandments, such as not to come late, not to freeload cable television, and not to pirate DVDs. And so on.

For me, the funniest aspect of the show was Dennis Diamond's pre-performance projections. The premise of these was to promote other Latino properties that are supposedly current on the Great White Way, such as Madre Mia! and The Latin King. But that's just Anglo me; the constituency to which Latinologues speaks seemed to be having a helluva good time throughout.


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