Theater Review: Fat Ham (The Huntington at Boston Center for the Arts)

Post image for Theater Review: Fat Ham (The Huntington at Boston Center for the Arts)

by Lynne Weiss on October 1, 2023

in Theater-Boston,Theater-Regional


This collaboration between Boston’s Black theater company Front Porch Arts Collective and the Atlanta-based Alliance Theater Company, directed by Stevie Walker-Webb, takes its audience into a fun-house version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that is, well, FUN even as it offers the characters and the audience visions of their better selves. James Ijames’s Fat Ham starts much as Hamlet starts: we’ve got our student, in this case a queer Black man named Juicy (Marshall W. Mabry IV), whose mother Tedra (Ebony Marshall-Oliver) has just married Juicy’s uncle Rev (James T. Alfred). And the ghost of Juicy’s dead father, Pap (also James T. Alfred), commands his son to avenge his death by killing his uncle. Like Hamlet, Juicy is depressed and anxious and unwilling to commit a murder.

Marshall W. Mabry IV, James T. Alfred

There are a few differences, however. Instead of a royal court in Denmark at some unspecified moment in history, Fat Ham is set in Luciana Stecconi‘s satisfyingly realistic present-day backyard in “Virginia, or Maryland, or Tennessee” complete with utility meters on the side of the house, mismatched lawn chairs, and a screen slider that has slipped off its tracks. Juicy is attending the University of Phoenix, denounced by his mother as a scam, rather than Hamlet’s ancient German university. Juicy’s friend Tio (Lau’rie Roach) is in the yard rehearsing moves for his planned audition for a porn film rather than conversing with castle guards when he sees the ghost of Juicy’s dead father. Juicy, in turn, sees the ghost while he is decorating the yard with streamers for a celebration of his mother Tedra’s marriage to Rev.

Marshall W. Mabry IV, Lau’rie Roach

Juicy, like the mourning Hamlet is dressed in black (costume designer Celeste Jennings). Ambivalent in his grief for his bully of a father, he is confused and unnerved by the ghost. Relatives arrive to join the wedding celebration. These include outspokenly Christian lady Rabby (Thomika Marie Bridwell) and her daughter Opal (Victoria Omoregie) and her son Larry (Amar Atkins). Opal has been forced to wear a flowered pink dress by her mother; Larry wears his U.S. Marines uniform that he hopes will impress Juicy. Juicy sets out to determine whether or not Rev really did kill Pap, not with a performance by a band of traveling players, but through a charades game played by everyone at the wedding reception.

Marshall W. Mabry IV, Victoria Omoregie

Rev’s guilt will be established, but what Juicy is going to do about it remains unclear. It’s worth saying that all’s well that ends well in this play, but not before some cringe-worthy and yet highly entertaining dancing (choreographer PJ Johnnie Jr) on the part of the bride, and a graphic description of a sexual encounter with a gingerbread man that eventually leads a number of characters to bare their souls and — in at least one case — physically transform themselves into a much more colorful version (another shout out to Ms. Jennings!).

James T. Alfred, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Victoria Omoregie, Thomika Marie Bridwell

Ghostly and other cool effects are achieved through the work of Evan Northrup (illusions design) and Xiangfu Xiao (lighting). Aubrey Dube (sound design) and Earon D. Nealey, whose hair and wig design add to the fun.

James T. Alfred, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Thomika Marie Bridwell,
Marshall W. Mabry IV, Victoria Omoregie, Amar Atkins

No knowledge of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is required to understand what is happening in this roller coaster of Black joy, though Juicy manages some very nice soliloquies. The 90-minute production contains at least two hours of wit — plus some share of wisdom as the characters turn to one another for redemption and liberation. Ultimately, the affirmation of love over revenge and of fellatio over self-flagellation turns the tables on tragedy.

Marshall W. Mabry IV

photos © T Charles Erickson

Victoria Omoregie, Thomika Marie Bridwell, Lau’rie Roach,
Amar Atkins, Marshall W. Mabry IV

Fat Ham
The Huntington
in association with Alliance Theatre and Front Porch Arts Collective
Calderwood/Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St. in Boston
ends on October 29, 2023
for tickets, call 617-266-0800 or visit Huntington

Marshall W. Mabry IV

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