The Playgoer: “Platanos & Collard Greens”

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

“Platanos & Collard Greens”

Heard of this show?

NYT's Gina Bellafante checks out another "little show that could," in this case one totally off the radar of the commercial, nonprofit, or downtown theatre worlds. But it has gotten word out to a very enthusiastic and loyal urban audience "of color." But, no, it is not a "chitlin" show.

Bellafante is right that the show's success (even its existence) reminds us of how much theatre there is in this town that isn't white, isn't upper-income bracket, and isn't even artsy. And thus it is totally under the radar of coverage, the New York Times? (Ok, good for them!)

Mr. Lamb’s play represents the strongest evidence at the moment of the blunt racial divide that marks so much cultural consumption — particularly in the theater, where projects attracting ethnically diverse audiences, either by design or in effect, come upon us with the regularity of orange groves in a cold climate. André 3000 is a crossover artist. Tyler Perry is not.

“Platanos & Collard Greens” concerns itself with the tension between the African-American and Latino communities in New York and the overwhelming majority of men and women who go to see it, some over and over, are nonwhites.

Good point on the Andre/Perry comparison. Though based on what I've seen of the movie of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," I'm not sure how much "crossing over" I'll be doing to his stage work.

(Personally I might prefer Madea's Family Reunion, which, when I first saw the title on the Beacon Theatre marquee I imagined some crazy Greek tragedy rewrite...So, Medea, are you married? Do you have kids?--Medea: Yeah, I have kids. Well, had.)

Whatever one may think of "Plantanos" (I haven't seen it) it seems a good sign of the artform to me whenever any play attracts an audience outside the Times Square tourist or (uh, sorry again) New York Times demographic.

Check out the inspirational story, by the way, of how the playwright, David Lamb, made it happen:
"Platanos & Collard Greens” was first produced in a tiny Midtown theater — 70 seats — in 2003 and has moved gradually and intermittently to larger spaces since, with virtually nothing but conversation to endorse it.

Though the show’s creator, David Lamb, had taken out a few spots on urban radio over the years, he relied primarily on his audiences to do his promotional work for him. The show functions without a press agent; until a few weeks ago it had no Web site. The cast is entirely anonymous, in the purest, hoariest sense of the term. The production notes for “Platanos & Collard Greens” may be singular in the world of New York theater for featuring not one actor whose credits include an outing on “Law & Order” or its subsidiaries.

By the end of its run at Gould Hall [a rental house at the tony Alliance Francaise in midtown] in September, though, about 90,000 people will have seen “Platanos & Collard Greens” a figure that exceeds the number who have taken a seat at “The Year of Magical Thinking” on Broadway by close to 20,000.

Bellafante says it required an initial $20,000 investment from him and his wife, and the two of them still produce the show as a production company. No other producers are listed, so I don't know if it's fully funded by ticket sales or what.

Here's a clue: that reference to no "Law and Order" credits? Why do I have a feeling Actors Equity won't be happy reading this today...


Brian said...

What do you think of the burgeoning genre of the "ethnic subculture" show? I would connect "Platanos and Collard Greens" to other shows like "My Father's Jewish, My Mother's Italian and I'm in Therapy!" or "Jewtopia" etc. One can think of other examples from the recent past like "Tony & Tina's Wedding." These shows draw in non-traditional theater-going audiences because (I presume) they trade on cultural sterotypes and shared references; you read the title and you already feel like you know what the humor's going to be. There's a built in audience that doesn't even need to read any reviews or anything like that. Whether they come in from the Black Community in Bed-Stuy or the white suburbs of NJ, they come because of the lure of familiar material that reinforces ideas about their particular community.

Anonymous said...

This book and the play was not what I expected. It is basically about two different cultures and African Americans trying to point out Hispanics are like them because they have African roots. I agree that they do share African roots but the similarities stop there. Hispanic culture has more of a traditional African influence. You can hear the drums and rhythm in the music and taste the herbs & spices in the food. Yes, both hail from African roots the same way Middle Easterns, Brazilians, Scilians, Asians, etc. do however the cultures are different. Either way, why drone on about "blackness" when all cultures should be embraced and get along instead of this pointing out who is of African ancenstory or not. In the end, we are all of the human race. And that's ONE race and that alone is a beautiful thing.

Anonymous said...

My bowel movement of last night's platanos and collard greens were far more interesting of this supbar and sophmoric play. Growing up in NY and being faced with cultural immersion is inevitable.......

Anonymous said...

It's just so funny how this play is trying to say that african americans and latinos/latinas are very similar and need to be closer. However, I think you need to love yourself and worry about yourself first. Alot of black people act like they don't even love each other. So here you are disrespecting your own black women in music and probably real life too and at the same time boosting someone of another race self esteem; etc. For example: Lil' Wayne only dating light skinned women and Wesley Snipes not dating black women at all. Sounds like self hate to me. Ofcourse we know that alot of Latino's have african descent and yes it is good to embrace the similarities but home needs to be taken care of first. There are hardly any plays about love between 2 black people. Even the titles of the plays are negative. It's really sad.