The Public Theater, New York City, (212) 967-7555
Latin History for Morons
Thank goodness John Leguizamo hasn’t mellowed with age, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. In his new one-man show, the 52-year-old actor and comedian “registers as hyperkinetic even on the rare occasions he’s standing still.” Sure, he’s no longer the brash young barrio kid you might know from his 1990s routines; here, he’s the father of two sulky teenagers with little patience for Papi’s history lessons. But though the writer-performer adopts the role of a bespectacled professor, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the chalk dust that swirls around him for smoke from his firing synapses. Off he goes, “churning up hot waves of improbably connected ideas” and dispensing some hilarious—and unprintable— one-liners as he attempts to help his son identify a Latin hero to profile for a middle-school assignment.
In Leguizamo’s 95 brilliant and fast-paced minutes onstage, “the best he can do is take the rough edges off us morons,” said Allison Adato in Entertainment Weekly. He races through the pre-Columbian civilizations— with shout-outs to the potato, chocolate, and the mambo—and spotlights Latin heroes in every major American conflict, including a Cuban- American woman who dressed like a man to fight in the Civil War. Leguizamo “knows how to pace a monologue,” so he spices up his talk with dance breaks, accents, physical gags, and, alas, “a few dated stereotypes.” But he also provides something beyond history: “the image of a father desperate to get it right as a parent.” That struggle is one all audience members can relate to. “Here’s hoping there’s more of Leguizamo’s own family saga to come.”
Father John Misty
The new Father John Misty album is “something of a miracle,” said Jeremy Winograd in SlantMagazine.com. Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman, who first adopted the Misty persona five years ago, is telling listeners in no uncertain terms that the world is a mess, but his “captivating” voice, his sly humor, and a raft of “heartbreakingly beautiful” melodies make Pure Comedy a challenging but deeply rewarding listen. Tillman’s voice, these days, is “pure honey,” said Tom Breihan in Stereogum.com. “Even in his darkest lyrical moments, he delivers everything with a soul singer’s sense of tenderness,” and on a production scale, “it’s been years since I’ve heard anyone attempt this level of unapologetic grandeur.” Tillman’s overriding message is that human beings are so dumb and selfish that they may destroy the planet, and he “sees all this as inherently funny”—the ultimate tragic comedy. Still, when he sings that it’s a miracle to be alive, he means it. Pure Comedy is too long and too self-congratulatory, but it’s also “an absolutely stunning piece of work.”
Let’s stop treating Bob Dylan’s current Great American Songbook phase as a lark, said Tom Moon in NPR.org. With his new three-disc collection of standards, the 75-year-old Nobel laureate has recently released five albums’ worth of Frank Sinatra–era tunes, and the effort suddenly looks like “an act of radical conservation.” Dylan’s voice has gone ragged, of course, but he “sounds deeply committed to this music,” and to the task of memorializing its signal traits: sophisticated lyrics, winding chord sequences, and challenging, meandering melodies that “somehow burrow into the ear.” Though Dylan can’t pull off every melody, Triplicate draws listeners in, and across 96 minutes “casts a hypnotic musical spell,” said Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). “But enough already.” A Nobel winner should be writing new material, not crooning oldies. That’s a legit complaint, said Randy Lewis in the Los Angeles Times. Still, the world is “undeniably richer” for having Dylan’s guided tour through the songs that laid the foundation for American music.
Aimee Mann’s first solo album in five years is “mood music for a single intractable mood: a lingering doldrums, a daylong drizzle under overcast skies,” said Jon Pareles in The New York Times. “An exquisite wallow,” the record finds the former lead singer of ’Til Tuesday departing from her usual midtempo rock to deliver a clutch of more stately folk hymns and waltzes. Singing in her “glumly levelheaded voice” about broken relationships and broken people, Mann sounds completely at home amid the songs’ pleasant pop structures. “But nothing interrupts the air of elegant futility.” In one sense, this is just another Aimee Mann album full of character sketches and personal laments, “all branded by a kind of urgent hyperliteracy,” said Craig Dorfman in PasteMagazine.com. But in its dependence on spare guitar and piano accompaniment, this album highlights Mann’s melodies and candid lyrics. Like a collection of short stories that rewards repeated readings, Mental Illness rewards repeated listens, revealing “ever more intricate” emotional textures.