Review: What a Piece of Work is FAT HAM at Wilma Theater

Wilma Theater’s Fat Ham is a witty take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet where the only death is the patriarchy.

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"Murder most foul, as in the best it is,

But this most foul, strange, and unnatural."

Many are familiar with the unfortunate tale of Shakespeare's pernicious prince of Denmark. The tragedy of Hamlet has been muse for many modern retellings including Disney's The Lion King. But I can guarantee, that you have never seen the Bard's story like this before.

Wilma Theater's Fat Ham is a witty take on Shakespeare's Hamlet where the only death is the patriarchy.

The ghost of Juicy's dad haunts him and asks for revenge - on Juicy's uncle, who has now married his widowed mom. Sound familiar? Yes, but...

Fat Ham is a filmed production of an exciting new play by Wilma Co-Artistic Director James Ijames (Kill Move Paradise). It centers a Black, queer discovery of self, softness, and resilience ... at a cookout in the South.

In this production, our prince is not the mopey Hamlet, but Juicy (Brennen S Malone), the self-proclaimed Mama's Boy. And the piece does not take place in various locations in Denmark. Instead, the setting is a post-wedding barbeque in a family backyard in a rural southern locale (bringing a whole new meaning to "Aye, there's the rub.")

Wilma Theater's Fat Ham is a fully-realized filmed production of James Ijames' original script and is streaming virtually as a part of the theatre's "Next Chapter" initiative.

The production feels intimate, like you are spectating into a family's life. The piece was filmed on location in Schuyler, Virginia with the cast quarantined. The entire 2 hour play was filmed in 11 long shots, filmed in succession as the sun set. The long shots and one limited playing space make the production feel more theatrical than a traditional filmed piece. It also seems to heighten the stakes as the actors work in real-time instead of being cut after a few short takes making the play a lovechild of site-specific theatre and the possibility of virtual production streaming.

Fat Ham is a contemporary, queer, and quirky take on Shakespeare's classic play. Ijames transforms the Bard's tragic and gory into a new magical story. The pieces echoes Hamlet in theme, structure and plot, but Fat Ham is completely modern and transports the story overseas into our backyards. And even though Fat Ham follows the Hamlet structure, it does not feel forced.

Fat Ham is aptly named as an allusion to the play's classical cousin Hamlet. This cleverness in not only the naming of the play Fat Ham but the constant reminder of the family business (butchery), and even the noticeable pig decorations in the set design.

Ijames script has humor and is endearing. Something you would not expect given the context. He also craftily adds Hamlet quotes into his retelling, like hidden gems for Shakespeare fans to find. It is clear that the playwright is not only familiar with Hamlet, but has a personal connection to the original play.

Fat Ham highlights relatable familial relationships, and though some are extreme, it is an honest portrayal of the slice of life it highlights. We see embarrassments, secrets, and all the typical complication of family drama.

Hamlet, and Shakespeare's theatrical body of work in general, are renown for the protagonist soliloquizing to the audience. Ijames continues this tradition by not only having the protagonist Juicy speak directly into the camera, but many of the other characters break the fourth wall as well.

Morgan Green, Fat Ham director and Wilma Co-Artistic Director, creates a juxtaposition between the beautiful and grisly, and conjoins the joyous and ominous.

Rounding out the cast are Kimberly S Fairbanks, Lindsay Smiling, Taysha Marie Canales, Brandon J Pierce, Jennifer Kidwell and Anthony Martinez-Briggs.

Brisket, karaoke, and overalls I can almost assure were not in the Bard's original conception for the Prince of Denmark's dismal tale. But Fat Ham and Hamlet still seem to be related like long-lost queer cousins, and both pieces definitely have their queens. Though at times Fat Ham may seem like madness, I can see there is method in it. It is a refreshing and colorful take on a classic. There is a twist at the end that may not play out as you may think, but by the ending credits I am sure you will be saying "What a piece of work is Fat Ham."

You may be wondering to yourself, "To see or not to see?" But there is no question. Catch Fat Ham this weekend before it goes dark. The production is only streaming through May 23rd.

For more information about Fam Ham, visit

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