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Latinologues

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LATINOLOGUES, Comedy with no borders, at Victory Gardens Theater. LA-based writer Rick Najera may have written all the monologues in this savage, sometimes killingly funny look at Latino life in America, a long-running hit at LA's Improv. But it's his partner, Jacob Vargas, who knows how to make the material fly. Whether he's playing a macho Latin-lover busboy, a clueless gangbanger, or a bitchy, backbiting beauty queen, Vargas disappears utterly into Najera's comic creations.

As a one-man show Latinologues would rock. However, Najera plays half the roles, and he's a much more limited performer. His characters--a Latino Moses, for example, or a hypocritical Hispanic producer--all come across as just Najera in a funny costume. Even when the material is brilliant, as when he plays a conflicted Chicano border guard who defiantly hassles only blond, blue-eyed Anglos trying to cross into the United States ("You, Sven, show me your green card!"), his performance lacks Vargas's urgency and commitment.

Perhaps the kinks in this show will get worked out--it started nearly 35 minutes late the night I saw it--and Najera will settle into his roles. But watching his ragged, unfocused, sometimes unconvincing performances, one can't help but think that this daring, inspired, intelligent comic writer should leave the acting to Vargas.

--Jack Helbig

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