Review: FAT HAM is a bold, fresh re-imagining of Hamlet

Pulitzer Prize-winning play runs through October 29 at Calderwood Pavilion, BCA

By: Oct. 22, 2023
Review: FAT HAM is a bold, fresh re-imagining of Hamlet

The 2021 play “Fat Ham” is definitely based on “Hamlet” and its characters hew to their Shakespearean counterparts,” but playwright James Ijames does much more than just offer up a contemporary take on a classic in his 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner.

Indeed, Ijames’ brilliantly reimagined rendering – now being given a superb production by the Huntington in association with Alliance Theatre and Front Porch Arts Collective at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, through October 29, after premiering in a 2021 production filmed for Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater, debuting off-Broadway at The Public Theater on May 12, 2022, and transferring to Broadway’s American Airlines Theatre where it officially opened on April 12, 2023 – is a bold, fresh new drama, with healthy doses of comedy.

It tells the story of Juicy (Marshall W. Mabry IV), a college-age young queer black man who, just one week after his father Pap’s (James T. Alfred) murder, is confronted by the man’s ghost and urged, like Hamlet, to avenge his killing by serving up the same fate to his brother, Juicy’s uncle Rev (Alfred in a dual role).

Despite Juicy’s often tortured relationship with his father, largely stemming from the recently deceased man’s antiquated beliefs about what it means to be a man, he wrestles with the idea of revenge and his desire to break once and for all the timeworn pattern of secrets, trauma, and violence that has for so long gripped his family.

The action plays out at a backyard barbecue where we see that, while Juicy is not the Prince of Denmark, he is the presumptive future head of his family’s barbecue restaurant and the one meant to carry on the pig-slaughtering tradition of the men in his family. Juicy, however, has more interest in earning an online degree in human resources and becoming his own person than in wielding a butcher knife.

Advice comes to him from all sides – from Tedra (Ebony Marshall-Oliver), his mother who is about to marry his murderous uncle, his supportive and free-spirited cousin Tio (Lau’rie Roach), and his mother’s friend Rabby (Thomika Marie Bridwell) and her adult children, Opal (Victoria Omoregie) and Larry (Amar Atkins). Bonded by shared experiences, Juicy, Opal, and Larry are eager to reveal their own truths – leaving the older set almost choking on their smoked shoulder.

Ijames’ affecting story plays out with compelling naturalism under Stevie Walker-Webb’s direction, and with perfectly calibrated performances from each member of the immensely talented cast. Mabry makes Juicy impossible to look away from by seamlessly blending the character’s many emotions.

Surrounding him are the equally excellent Marshall-Oliver as Juicy’s loving mother, who freely admits that she’s not made to live alone as she tries to explain why she’s marrying her husband’s hotheaded brother. As the ghostly husband and his brother, Alfred deftly balances a teeter-totter of charm and menace before finally tilting fully toward the latter. Bridwell is terrific as a conservative mother who turns out to be much more than meets the eye.

Omoregie is great as a confident pepper pot with a lid that could blow off at any moment. She’s also charming, funny, and a delightful counterpoint to Juicy. As a military man who uses his uniform both to conceal his real self and as a shield against familial judgement, Atkins is moving, but with minimal dialogue his character is sometimes too much of an enigma.

Roach is a stand-out among equals as Tio, Juicy’s cousin, friend, and counsel in the mold of Hamlet’s Horatio. Humorous moments abound in “Fat Ham,” and Roach plays his to full effect. When Tio, the first to experience Pap’s ghostly apparition, is urged to bring him back, he asks, “What do I look like? Miss Cleo?” A dated reference, maybe – laugh-out-loud funny, absolutely.

The realistic backyard set by scenic designer Luciana Stecconi – notable for showing characters moving through the house while the action continues outside – is richly detailed, absent only the smell of ribs cooking in the smoker. Character-perfect costumes by Celeste Jennings add to the authentic look of the production.

Choreographer PJ Johnnie, Jr., brings out winning exuberance from the cast on high-energy, full-out dance numbers enhanced by Xiangfu Xiao’s lighting design and Aubrey Dube’s sound design. And the music starts before the action, too, with a well chosen pre-show playlist of impossible-to-resist disco favorites.

Photo caption: Marshall W. Mabry IV and Lau’rie Roach in a scene from “Fat Ham.” Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

BroadwayWorld Awards Voting


BroadwayWorld Boston Awards; BEETLEJUICE, THE WIZ,  & More Lead! Photo
BroadwayWorld Boston Awards; BEETLEJUICE, THE WIZ, & More Lead!

It's the final 3 weeks and we have the latest standings as of Monday, December 11th for the 2023 BroadwayWorld Boston Awards! Don't miss out on making sure that your favorite theatres, stars, and shows get the recognition they deserve!

Cirque du Soleils OVO Comes to Boston in 2024 Photo
Cirque du Soleil's OVO Comes to Boston in 2024

Cirque du Soleil has announced its return to Boston with its newly revisited high-energy and high-acrobatic production OVO. An exciting Cirque du Soleil experience, OVO is a colorful intrusion into a new day in the life of insects; a non-stop riot of energy and movement.

VIDEO: Watch a Scene from Ken Ludwigs THE GAMES AFOOT: HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS at Lyric St Photo
VIDEO: Watch a Scene from Ken Ludwig's THE GAME'S AFOOT: HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS at Lyric Stage

The holiday season at Lyric Stage sparkles with big laughs, unexpected gasps, and all around festive fun at Ken Ludwig's The Game's Afoot: Holmes for the Holidays. Watch a preview here!

Photos: First Look At A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A MUSCAL GHOST STORY At North Shore Music Th Photo
Photos: First Look At A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A MUSCAL GHOST STORY At North Shore Music Theatre

See photos of A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A MUSCAL GHOST STORY playing at North Shore Music Theatre thru December 23.


Evil Dead The Musical HD in Boston Evil Dead The Musical HD
Boston Center for the Arts (1/25-2/25)Tracker PHOTOS VIDEOS
Renée Fleming, soprano in Boston Renée Fleming, soprano
Symphony Hall (2/04-2/04)Tracker
Hairspray (Non-Equity) in Boston Hairspray (Non-Equity)
Emerson Colonial Theatre (1/19-1/21)
Stand Up If You're Here Tonight in Boston Stand Up If You're Here Tonight
Huntington Theatre, Maso Studio (1/20-3/03)PHOTOS
Company in Boston Company
Boston Opera House (4/02-4/14)
Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age  in Boston Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age
Sanders Theatre (3/15-3/15)
The Porch on Windy Hill in Boston The Porch on Windy Hill
Merrimack Repertory Theatre (4/03-4/21)
A Case for the Existence of God in Boston A Case for the Existence of God
SpeakEasy Stage Company (1/26-2/17)
Come From Away (Non-Equity) in Boston Come From Away (Non-Equity)
Boston Opera House (5/28-6/02)
Stayin' Alive - Bee Gees Tribute in Boston Stayin' Alive - Bee Gees Tribute
The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts (1/19-1/19)

Recommended For You