Synopsis: Juicy is a queer, Southern college kid, already grappling with some serious questions of identity, when the ghost of his father shows up in their backyard, demanding that Juicy avenge his murder. But here’s the rub! Revenge doesn’t come easy to Juicy, a sensitive and self-aware young Black man in search of happiness and liberation. From an uproarious family cookout emerges a compelling examination of love and loss, pain and joy.
For over 400 years, Hamlet by William Shakespeare has captured the attention of audiences globally and has been adapted a plethora of times in all forms of media. In keeping up with the trend of adapting this prolific play, James Ijames has created the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fat Ham.” The story is your classic Hamlet adaptation, Juicy (our Hamlet in this adaptation) is distraught over the death of his father and his mother suddenly marrying his uncle after a week. Juicy becomes plagued by his father’s ghost with orders to kill his uncle who we discover was the cause of his father’s death. Unlike the source material, this is set in the South at a cookout for the family celebrating the wedding that had happened earlier. What follows over 90 minutes is a comedy about love, death, and the queer experience as opposed to the original tragedy.
Mr. Ijames’s script manages to captivate and invite the audience into this world from the start of the show. Hamlet’s story fits perfectly in the narrative of a black family cookout complete with gratuitous karaoke. As the adaptation unfolds, it allows for the actors to pull from Hamlet's favourite various quotes, while adapting the language to a more modern vernacular. The biggest roadblock came at the end with the show abruptly stopping. The ending of Hamlet sees the majority of the cast deceased, however, that is not the case with Fat Ham. It just ends and the cast starts cleaning up around the stage right before the big flashy finale that felt somewhat out of left field when compared with the meticulously crafted narrative that had just transpired.
Directed by Saheem Ali, Fat Ham and its many moving parts propelled the show forward and kept a brilliant pace. So much was happening with each cast member at various intervals that you could watch on singular character when they were onstage and grab a different piece of the story from someone watching another. The difficulty this takes as a director looked easy under Mr. Ali’s guidance. Each character was fully realized, landing each comedic line with ease and garnering the exact reaction desired from the line.
Technical aspects that stood out were illusions designed by Skylar Fox, featuring Pap’s Ghost (portrayed by Billy Eugene Jones) as the primary focal point that popped up across the stage within various objects that were both fun and unique in approach. Maruti Evans's scenic design encapsulated the feel of the narrative and added to the story versus taking away from it. The more you would look at the set, the more you’d notice the warped sizing of the windows or the oddly painted hedges getting cut off by doors or banisters. This helped to drive in that this family was not as picture-perfect as the surface glance appeared. Rounding out the technical success is costume designer Dominique Fawn Hill, managing to bring each character full circle with their wardrobe choices to the point you knew who each person was before they even had to open their mouth. Where there was some technical faltering in the sound design and sound mixing by Mikaal Sulaiman. At times it was difficult to hear what was happening because of the overpowering of one mic compared to others.
Cast standouts include Marcel Spears as Juicy, managing to lead the story and be in on the joke throughout. The complexity of his emotional arc allowed for the needed grounding pole for the other characters to create chaos around. Tony Nominated Nikki Crawford shines in her role of Tedra, Juicy’s mother who is conflicted by the sudden marriage due to potential unhappiness with her former spouse, while also showing deep concern for Juicy. However, the true star of the show was Benj Kay Thomas as Rabby who had the most memorable one lines that she delivered to great comedic effect.
Overall, Fat Ham was an incredibly fun time and a brilliant adaptation of Shakespeare’s original show. The direction and cast all shined under the work of Mr. James Ijames and brought to life the world around them. However, its abrupt ending was a big barrier that was crashed into versus a graceful landing. Fat Ham earns itself a firm 4 out of 5 stars.
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