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TV REVIEW

Brutally Twisted Humor Shines in 'Freak'

October 10, 1998|OSCAR GARZA | TIMES DAILY CALENDAR EDITOR

At the end of John Leguizamo's "Freak," after the credits have run, comes this advisory:

"As our lawyers insist we put it, the characters in 'Freak' are wildly exaggerated for comic effect and bear little or no resemblance to actual people."

Further, Leguizamo has described his show as a "demi-semi-quasi-pseudo-autobiographical comedy."

But watching this HBO adaptation of his hit Broadway show, with the comic actor's brutally funny characterizations of his family, you can't help but wonder which parts are not so wildly exaggerated.

And Leguizamo provides some clues as he takes viewers through his childhood in Queens, the older of two sons in a Colombian immigrant family. There are moments when the pain and anger on his face seem frighteningly real:

"Why don't you just quit drinking, Dad?" asks the son at one point.

" 'Cause I'm not a quitter," responds his father.

That's the kind of twisted humor that permeates the performance, for which Leguizamo received a Tony nomination. He dances and bounds around the stage of the Cort Theatre, his manic energy captured perfectly by Spike Lee's cameras.

Leguizamo focuses on his childhood and adolescence as his family moves to seemingly every ethnic neighborhood in the borough--and he manages to get beat up in every one of them. Finally, he recounts his discovery of the stage, which started with sneaking in to the second act of Broadway shows with the uncle he describes as a "triple-threat: Latino, gay and deaf."

It was there, watching "A Chorus Line," that Leguizamo noticed a character named Morales--and suddenly all things seemed possible to him.

And it appears all things were possible--Leguizamo's was the first-ever solo show by a Latino on Broadway. For a few months earlier this year, the Great White Way wasn't so white anymore.

* "John Leguizamo: Freak" premieres at 10 tonight on HBO. The network has rated it TV-MA-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17, with an advisory for coarse language).

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