More than three and a half years ago, David Lamb, a former public finance attorney on Wall Street, wrote Platanos & Collard Greens, to explore the stereotypes African-Americans and Latinos hold of each other. The book focuses on the love between two Hunter College students—one African-American, the other Latino—and the obstacles their relationship faces. “Their relationship is a metaphor for the relations between Blacks and Latinos in New York from the 1960s to today,” says Lamb, who drew on his own experiences as a teacher and a student at Hunter. He had two objectives in mind, he says. “My first was to take hip-hop and make literature out of it. It was also to ask why Blacks and Latinos can party together and dance together, but can’t take care of business together politically,” he says.
Lamb turned the book into a theatrical production of the same name. Since June 2003, he has presented it at local and national venues to standing-room- only. A romantic comedy, the show keeps you in stitches as the actors give voice to old and new clearly ridiculous stereotypes, such as all Black men are incredible in bed and all Latina women are hot and always ready for sex. During February and March, the play will be presented at Baruch College’s Mason Hall Theater, located at 17 Lexington Avenue in New York City.
Produced by Lamb’s Brooklyn, N.Y., company, Between The Lines Prod-uctions Inc., Platanos & Collard Greens is a one-of-a-kind play. “It’s a chance to see Black and Latino life depicted on stage in a way you won’t find anywhere else. It will remind you of your family and real life. It will make you laugh outloud, touch you deeply emotionally and make you feel uplifted,” Lamb says.
What makes hearing familiar stereotypes so funny? “It’s because of, one, the way we present it. We give it to you, then we critique it. Two, we’ve heard them for years, but you haven’t heard them in a room full of hundreds of people and someone is saying this,” Lamb says. “It’s a chance to laugh at our foolishness. It’s healing to get someone to say something about bad hair and laugh about how foolish that is. It’s a chance to laugh at the way that people have been stereotyping you and it totally reminds you of people you know.”
This familiarity is a huge contributor to the play’s appeal and its unexpected success. “I can’t think of another play where you have contemporary, real figures of Blacks and Latinos. People find it healing. Our audiences are overwhelmingly Black and Latinos, but we also get East Indians and Asians and they relate to it, to the objections from the parents and the friends,” Lamb says. “There was a Black guy there from England, who came with his Italian girlfriend from Brooklyn and they completely identified with the play,” he says.
Lamb credits his wife, Jamillah, who is president of Between The Lines, for the longevity of the production. “She is the management, the everything you don’t see, booking the theater, setting up tickets. Everything that needs to get done to make it happen,” he says.
Platanos is a tribute to the use of powerful language, whether through dialogue or during the recitation of a piece of memorable poetry. Lamb concedes that he tweaks the production, depending on the size of the venue. “It’s basically the same play, but we’re constantly refining it. The bigger the venue, the more changes we make. We started in a 70-seat theater, now the biggest one has been 900 seats. I never imagined that. Our goal was a 300-seat theater,” he says.
For more information about the production, including reviews, the history of the play and the producers’ bios, visit its Web site at www.platanosandcollardgreens.com. To purchase tickets, call 212-352-3101, or log on to www.Theatermania.com.