“Platanos and Collard Greens”
Friday, Oct. 3, 7 p.m.
MLB Auditorium 4
“Platanos and Collard Greens” has visited more than 75 college campuses and captivated more than 10,000 audience members since its debut in 2003, even though the fact that it’s not actually about food (as the title implies). The play, sponsored by the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, will be performed at 7:00 p.m. in MLB Auditorium 4.
Despite its delicious title, “Platanos and Collard Greens” — written by David Lamb and Summer Hill Seven — is actually about racial tensions between Hispanics and Blacks. A hip-hop “Romeo and Juliet,” it tells the story of two members of Hunter College’s student government campaign — Freeman, an African-American, and Angelita, a Dominicana — who become romantically involved in an environment filled with racial pressures.
As the lovers become closer, other characters begin to disapprove of the relationship. Angelita’s mother opposes any connection between Blacks and Latinos, and disapproves of her daughter being with someone who the mother considers racially inferior. Meanwhile, African-American women, tired of losing intelligent Black men to lighter-skinned women, accuse Freeman of betraying his roots. Engulfed in prejudices and indignation, what these characters seem to forget is that Angelita and Freeman are just two kids who happen to like each other.
The play certainly tackles deep-seated issues, but don’t be discouraged by the apparent Debbie Downer attitude, because above all, the point of the show is to entertain. It opened in New York with strong reviews and even stronger actors, and the belief that creating great theatre takes precedence over any sociopolitical statement. The play is fun, funny and designed to be unconventional. Audience participation is thoroughly encouraged, and don’t be surprised if a character unexpectedly turns to the audience and delivers a beat-poetry soliloquy.
Believing in hip hop as the future of American theater, “Platanos and Collard Greens” has actors break into rhymes and rhythms just as characters break into songs in musicals.
“Our performance focuses mainly on the poetry,” producer and playwright David Lamb said. “Even when it’s dialogue, it’s rhythmic, not stilted.”
Lamb wrote “Platanos and Collard Greens” as a theatrical presentation of his novel, “Do Platanos Go Wit Collard Greens?” Growing up in the Astoria Housing Projects of Queens, Lamb witnessed tensions between Latinos and African-Americans first-hand. After obtaining degrees from Hunter College and Princeton, and a Law degree from New York University, he worked on Wall Street as a public finance attorney. Even with his professional success, Lamb realized that his true calling was in the arts. He formed a publishing company through which he published his first novel. The work was soon transformed into a play and subsequently launched his career in playwriting and production.
“Platanos and Collard Greens” is a play of criss-crossing — culturally, generationally and sociopolitically. Using hip hop and humor as vehicles to diversify the theater, “Platanos and Collard Greens” doesn’t attract the average theater-goer. Barack Obama once said that the most segregated time for Americans is church on Sunday, but David Lamb disagrees: The most segregated climate in America is found in the theater.
“We have very, very, very, very, very few European, white audiences,” Lamb said. “It’s a question of interest, the feeling you will be able to relate to it … When you’re in the majority you don’t necessarily realize that there are issues that will relate to you.” But, he argues, when people of a non-minority race do come to the show, they usually enjoy it immensely.
“The audience laughs out loud about 40 times in the play,” Lamb said. After, he recited a quote from Bernard Shaw: “If you’re going to tell the truth, you’d better make them laugh.”