Review: FAT HAM at Seattle Rep

The “It” play of the season comes to Seattle.

By: Apr. 18, 2024
Review: FAT HAM at Seattle Rep
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Review: FAT HAM at Seattle Rep
Taj E.M. Burroughs and Reginald André Jackson
in Fat Ham (2024) at Seattle Rep.
Photo credit: Bronwen Houck

Dear Readers, it’s a risky proposition when the show you’ve been pining to see finally comes to town.  I was in NY when “Fat Ham” was at the Public but didn’t catch it.  I was planning a trip to see it when it went to Broadway but had to cancel the trip.  Then the Seattle Rep announced it for their season (as did many theaters around the country) and I was giddy.  But what if the hype and the anticipation didn’t pay off?  Or what if the Rep’s production just wasn’t up to snuff?  Disappointment is one thing but a massive let down is soul crushing.  So, did the Rep’s “Fat Ham” crush my soul?  Absolutely not and I must entreat anyone reading this, DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW!!!

For those unfamiliar, James Ijames’ “Fat Ham” is, simply put, a retelling of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.  Except in this modern world, the Hamlet character is a black, queer man named Juicy (Taj E.M. Burroughs).  Juicy is having a bad week.  His Pap (Reginald André Jackson) was killed (shanked while in prison) a week ago and his mom, Tedra (Dedra D. Woods) just remarried, to his Uncle Rev (also played by Jackson).  And they’re throwing a backyard BBQ to celebrate.  If all that weren’t enough, Pap’s ghost just showed up and demanded Juicy avenge his murder by killing Rev.  Are you catching on to the “Hamlet” of it all?  DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW!!!

But this is not strictly a rip-off of Shakespeare.  Sure, ljames does take some of the Shakespearean text but it’s mostly when Juicy wants to make a point directly to the audience.  For the most part, this is modern language and all ljames.  Plus, he’s taken a few liberties with the story.  I don’t want to give it all away but let’s just say, tragedies don’t need to be so tragic.  In fact, his piece is outright hysterical.  From Juicy’s outrageous family to his quick, razor-sharp wit, to one brilliant monologue (more on this later) from Juicy’s cousin Tio (Chip Sherman), this amazing show will keep you howling from beginning to end.  DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW!!!

Review: FAT HAM at Seattle Rep
Reginald André Jackson, Dedra D. Woods,
and Felicia V. Loud in
Fat Ham (2024) at Seattle Rep.
Photo credit: Bronwen Houck

Beyond the stunning script, the cast and crew here are from the theater Gods.  Director Timothy McCuen Piggee has taken this show and made it his own.  Since I missed it before, I’ve devoured anything I could find from the Broadway run on “Fat Ham” and from what I’ve seen, Piggee is not just doing a carbon copy of what came before.  And what he has plated up for us is mouthwatering.  Pap repeatedly says in the show that good BBQ isn’t about the sauce, it’s the rub, and Piggee has certainly applied a delicious rub to this show from his own fantastic staging to the outstanding crew.  The set from Caite Hevner is the perfect blend of whimsy and practicality.  Ricky German’s costumes are a sublime thing of beauty as are Earon Chew Nealey’s wigs.  And I must mention Jimmy Shields incredible choreography that put the perfect cherry on the top of this delectable sundae.  DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW!!!

What can be said about this uber-talented cast other than, incredible.  Burroughs glides through this piece and the intricacies of Juicy with seeming ease.  He owns the piece and holds the role and the audience in the palm of his hand.  Fighting Burroughs for that ownership of any scene she’s in is Woods.  I’m never not impressed with her in the many things I’ve seen her and as Tedra she absolutely disappears into the role and shakes the theater to its core.  Jackson kills (literally) as both Pap and Rev, managing a fantastic portrayal of two sides of the same coin.  And all of them continue to bring those powerhouse moments while still bringing the laughs.

Review: FAT HAM at Seattle Rep
Taj E.M. Burroughs and Chip Sherman
in Fat Ham (2024) at Seattle Rep.
Photo credit: Bronwen Houck

But it’s not just the immediate family.  We need to talk about the friends.  Felicia V. Loud as Rabby (the equivalent to Polonius) is a vicious delight.  Each time she opens her mouth some wonderfully acerbic daggers fly out making her a joy to watch.  Aishé Keita takes on the Ophelia of the piece as Opal, Juicy’s playmate as a child and confidant as an adult.  There may not be as much of a romance in this version, but the relationship is certainly there, and Keita makes the role an empowering triumph.  Semaj Miller struts in as Larry (Laertes), a soldier home on leave.  But this seemingly one note Marine has hidden depths and Miller brings them out beautifully.  His arc throughout the piece is a stunner. 

But the standout for me, and one of my favorite actors in town, has to be Chip Sherman as Juicy’s cousin Tio (Horatio).  They blast onto stage and establish themselves as an amazing character and comic relief and then disappear all too soon.  Not to worry, they’re back soon enough only to repeatedly bring down the house. From their tale of garage sale sneakers to that aforementioned monologue that is worth the price of admission to their final, incredibly nimble and athletic … nope, don’t want to give away the ending.  I’ll just say, Sherman’s performance is a tour de force and one that will stay with me for a long time.  Major kudos!!!  DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW!!!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, you really should not miss this show.  It is a must see of the season and I will feel extreme pity and a touch of sadness for anyone who lets it pass by.  And so, if you have not guessed by now, with my three-letter rating system, I give “Fat Ham” at the Seattle Rep a “I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me, and it certainly did not disappoint” WOW!  I’ll just say it one more time.  DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW!!!

“Fat Ham” performs at the Seattle Rep through May 12th.  For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.




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