I think the Bard would be thrilled to see his classic play Hamlet given a colorful twist by James IJames with his 2022 Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Fat Ham,” playing at The Public Theater. This magnificently creative play that gives “Hamlet” a spin includes an all-Black family, the murder of the cruel patriarch, his brother facilitating it and marrying his widow and the ghost of the patriarch bidding his gay, Black son Juicy to avenge his death, as Juicy prepares the backyard for the wedding reception. Doesn’t sound like Shakespeare to you? Well, this play is one of the most prolific works you will have the incredible opportunity to see. This stunning production shows the gem that emerges when The Public Theater and the National Black Theatre co-produce a work. And it is remarkably directed by The Public Theater Associate Artistic Director/Resident Director—Saheem Ali.
What was so engaging about this play is not only are they doing a Black take-off of Hamlet, Juicy tends to quote Shakespeare and many of the actors engage in breaking the fourth wall and speak to the audience. That alone takes this work to an utterly fantastic level. There are a great deal of clever moments. The laughs are off-the-chains.
Juicy is a college student who never had the support of his father Papp. He put him down for being gay and used to do cruel things to him. Papp is so hard a person, he killed a man for speaking to him because the man had bad breath! Juicy is comfortable being gay, but the only person who has always accepted him is her mother Tedra. He is close with his cousin Tio. Tio is quite a character, as he watches porn and demonstrates that he thinks he could do some of the sexual positions. He also loves to get high and play wild video games. Juicy’s uncle Rev, who had his father Papp murdered and married his wife Tedra, is as mean a person as Papp and physical assaults Juicy. He constantly verbally attacks Juicy for his way of dressing and his demeanor. Juicy is decorating the backyard of the house for a wedding reception for his mother and her new husband, his Uncle Rev. Once the ghost of Papp confronts him about his murder, Juicy’s life is not the same. Papp demands that he murder his uncle. Juicy’s other relatives also lend to the drama and comedy of the story as his Aunt Rabby comes for the reception and brings Juicy’s cousin Larry and Opal. Both are not living their truth and Juicy knows it.
“Fat Ham” is a tasty tale that will have your pallet for Shakespeare satisfied, your funnybone tickled, your shock enticed and your mind swirling with delectable delight! My daughter Jasmine and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Don’t let it being based on Hamlet fool you. “Fat Ham” has an ending that is nothing less than unexpected and tremendously creative.
Marcel Spears as Juicy is absolutely BRILLIANT! He makes that character shine brightly and beautifully represents the Black, gay community and the struggles and degradation they can go through from their own family members. Juicy is also well versed in Shakespeare and does him proud. Nikki Crawford as his sexy, supportive mother Tedra is superb in the role of this bumping and grinding temptress. Her character is very funny and over the top, as are all the characters in this play. Billy Eugene Jones proves to be doubly evil and delightful as he portrays both Rev and Papp. Chris Herbie Holland as Tio, the porn watching, drug taking, video game playing cousin and confidente is absolutely hilarious. Adrianna Mitchell is a breath of fresh air as Opal, a lesbian who is made to wear dresses by her mother, Rabby. Rabby is an overbearing woman who doesn’t want to recognize the truth about her daughter or her son Larry. She is marvelously played by Benja Kay Thomas. Rabby is someone who has advice for everyone, but doesn’t see the trouble in her own household. Calvin Leon Smith is stunning in his delivery of Larry!
Seven is definitely a lucky number for “Fat Ham” because this cast of seven brings the laughter, joy, crazy and the frequent breaking of the fourth wall, all of which completely engage the audience and make you want more!
You have got to go see “Fat Ham,” extended now through July 3! Take the whole family and let “Fat Ham” be your new means to “brush up your Shakespeare.” When it comes to the question of “To be, or not to be,” I’m so grateful that Ijames chose to let “Fat Ham” BE!
The Public Theater is at 425 Lafayette Avenue in lower Manhattan. For more info, visit www.publictheater.org.