I may start with the ghost. Or the well-known existential query.
But I’m not reviewing one other run-of-the-mill adaptation of “Hamlet”; “Fat Ham,” James Ijames’s excellent transformation of Shakespeare’s tragedy into a play about Black masculinity and queerness, each echoes “Hamlet” and finds a language past it.
So I’ll begin with a scene that particularly evokes this manufacturing’s charms: In the center of a yard barbecue, a group of relations and associates sitting round a desk lined with plates of ribs, corn on the cob and biscuits is all of the sudden bathed in a blue highlight. They escape into an impressionistic dance (choreographed by Darrell Grand Moultrie), curling ahead and arching backward in gradual movement, arms fanning out, then they stoop down into their seats and start headbanging. All the whereas, our hero, Juicy (Marcel Spears), whom Ijames characterizes in his script as “a kinda Hamlet,” mournfully croons alongside to Radiohead’s “Creep.”
This is Ijames’s tongue-in-cheek type of wit: Of course the melancholy prince would have sung “Creep” had Thom Yorke and his band been round in Seventeenth-century England. Without undermining its drama, “Fat Ham” pokes enjoyable on the theatricality of Hamlet’s anguish.
And Saheem Ali, the director of “Fat Ham,” which opened on Thursday on the Public Theater in a co-presentation with the National Black Theater, can positive throw a celebration. By including within the lights and motion, the scene takes on an elevated aptitude. But then once more, having directed the equally vivacious “Merry Wives” on the Delacorte Theater and “Nollywood Dreams” at MCC Theater final yr, Ali is at his greatest when given an event to have a good time Blackness.
Juicy is aware of about trauma — in any case, he’s a homosexual Black man in North Carolina. But his extra speedy concern is that this barbecue, which is a wedding ceremony celebration for his mom, Tedra (Nikki Crawford), and his uncle Rev (Billy Eugene Jones), who’ve married simply a week after the homicide of Juicy’s father, Pap (additionally performed by Jones). When Pap returns in a spiffy spectral type — crisp porcelain-white swimsuit and sneakers — to inform him that Rev orchestrated his homicide, Juicy should resolve whether or not he’ll search revenge. And all this within the midst of a celebration additionally attended by his household associates, the judgmental Rabby (Benja Kay Thomas) and her grownup youngsters, Opal (Adrianna Mitchell) and Larry (Calvin Leon Smith).
Just a few weeks in the past “Fat Ham” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama regardless of having by no means had an in-person manufacturing. In April 2021 the Wilma Theater launched a filmed model of the play that my colleague Jesse Green wrote was “hilarious yet profound.” But maybe that’s no shock given it’s from the playwright of such critically acclaimed works as “Kill Move Paradise” and “The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington.”
So many playwrights and administrators strive to discover the areas in Shakespeare’s texts that they’ll squeeze into, strong-arming their private sensibilities and up to date politics into a few of Shakespeare’s best-known speeches and scenes. Ijames does the other in “Fat Ham”; he steals the bones of the unique and sloughs off the surplus just like the fatty bits on a slab of meat. He crafts his personal story after which inside it makes area for Shakespeare once more.
That’s to say that there’s precise Shakespeare right here, with Juicy slipping into Hamlet’s authentic language at times. (Spears, who’s no stranger to basic Shakespeare roles, pulls on the previous English comfortably, like an previous pair of denims, his line-reading colloquial and unfussed.) In truth, Ijames keenly grants everybody a degree of meta-awareness. The impact is beautiful, making the play a residing textual content, transferring between “Hamlet,” the story occurring on the stage and the world past the fourth wall.
“What you tell them?” multiple character asks Juicy — “them” being the viewers. The assumption being that Juicy might mislead us, as if we don’t already know some model of this story and the way it ends. “Fat Ham” makes use of that to its benefit, difficult our expectations of, say, Tedra, who isn’t shy about defending herself towards the trope of the weak, untrue spouse and irresponsible mom. At one level, she says of the viewers: “They done already made up they minds about what I’m worth. What I get to feel. What I get to do.”
Ijames additionally opts out of the Hamlet-Ophelia romance, as a substitute making a number of of the historically straight characters homosexual. And Opal is just not the delicate love-stricken woman in so many different “Hamlet” variations however sturdy and difficult sufficient to throw down in a avenue battle.
What would usually be a story about revenge as a substitute turns into one in regards to the poisonous masculinity and homophobia that plague the Black neighborhood. “You was soft,” Rev says to Juicy with a sneer. “And the men in our family ain’t soft. And I started to think — look at this little pocket of nothing.”
Just as “Hamlet” is stuffed with humor, so too is “Fat Ham,” from Juicy’s deadpan sarcasm to Rev’s elaborately singsong sermon of a mealtime prayer. And Chris Herbie Holland as Tio (that’s Horatio), Juicy’s kooky cousin and greatest good friend, shakes up each scene he’s in with raucous comedy.
“Fat Ham” really sings within the ensemble scenes, and Ali’s route crackles within the many cases when there are overlapping jokes, remarks and barbs. If the comedy’s not within the script, then it’s within the managed chaos, as a result of the solid is gifted, although they shine greatest when the motion of the 90-minute present picks up. The pacing within the first few scenes may gradual so the great thing about the language and characters don’t get misplaced in a monotonous tread. And the actors’ principally mic-less efficiency often suffers from their makes an attempt to each emote and undertaking; the quantity erases a lot of the tonal modulation and dialogue pauses.
Dominique Fawn Hill’s costume design provides one other layer of character growth: Rabby’s loud Barney-purple ensemble, with its flouncy hat, for the church-loving gossip queen; Juicy’s gloomy all-black ensemble of overalls and a mesh shirt; Tio’s “Goosebumps” T-shirt and coral zebra-print button-down with acid-washed embroidered denims; and one resplendent explosion of colourful materials and equipment that may catch audiences off-guard, in the easiest way, on the finish of the present.
Maruti Evans’s good scenic design — a maroon-red again porch on a thrust stage lined with AstroTurf, in entrance of a backdrop of the home — is simply as vivid because the costumes and the playful lighting (by Stacey Derosier).
For all that Ijames dismantles in Shakespeare’s authentic textual content, he builds it again up into one thing that’s extra — extra tragic but in addition extra joyous, extra comedic, extra political, extra up to date. It dons the attributes of Shakespeare that make it basic. “To be or not to be” turns into a totally different sort of existential question. It’s not a query of life or dying, however of who we are able to resolve to be in a world that tries to outline that for us: Can you be comfortable? Can you be queer? Can you be courageous? Can you be sincere?
Through July 3 on the Public Theater, Manhattan; publictheater.org. Running time: 1 hour half-hour.
‘Fat Ham’ Review: Dismantling Shakespeare to Liberate a Gay Black ‘Hamlet’ & More Latest News Update
‘Fat Ham’ Review: Dismantling Shakespeare to Liberate a Gay Black ‘Hamlet’ & More Live News
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