BBQ ‘Hamlet’ needs more meat


Is Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” the best vehicle for modern questions about race, masculinity and LGBT issues? – that The question is

Theater review

Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes without any intermission. at the American Airlines Theater, 227 W. 42nd Street.

Playwright James James’ “Fat Ham,” which opened on Broadway Wednesday night, thinks so. Rather than perishing violently, more characters come out of the closet — or get taller — in this whimsical spin on tragedy.

The play turns “Hamlet” into a broad inept family comedy, as it moves the usually miserable action to a lively backyard BBQ somewhere down south.

Done with Denmark, now something has gone wrong in the state of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland or Tennessee — we’re not sure which.

This is a fine, if not important, consideration. Shakespeare’s plays are adapted and adapted all the time — the 1999 film “10 Things I Hate About You” is based on “The Taming of the Shrew,” while “The Lion King” is “Hamlet” with hyenas.

This modern spin on “Hamlet” is set at a backyard Southern bbq.
Joan Marks

And two years ago, “Fat Ham” director Saheem Ali directed a funny, Harlem-set “Merry Wives of Windsor” in Central Park.

However, even though our Hamlet stand-in, Jussie (Marcel Spears), still wants to avenge the death of his father who was murdered by his villainous uncle, he is much more concerned with his personal identity – that is, homosexuality and sensitivity. . A traditional black family.

Don’t get me wrong. Hamlet has always been a deeply self-involved boy, but as originally written, there is fire behind his narcissism. The prince wanted to expose not the less compelling truth of his sexual preferences, but the truth of an unexpected royal crime.

By comparison, to put it in BBQ parlance, the stakes here are low and slow. Instead of “Oh, that this very solid flesh will melt,” Juicy tells us, “I asked my mom for a doll. A black Barbie dressed in pink.”

Jussie, the Hamlet stand-in, shouts "the creep" by Radiohead.
Juicy, the Hamlet stand-in, screams “Creep” by Radiohead.
Joan Marks

During another pseudo-soliloquy, he screams the Radiohead song “Creep” on a karaoke machine, while those around him jolt into a dreamy interpretive dance.

And at the play’s stupid, unnecessary end, we neither mourn nor recover from the euphoria of the deadly clash. Instead, the characters happily dance to pulsing pop as they get closer to accepting who they really are.

Good for them. The trouble is, when you take out the tragedy and, for the most part, the driven anger and manufactured madness of the main character, you have an aimless story that leaves its audience hungry for some meat. And the empty carbs – decent humor and mostly poetry – are not enough to fill the void.

Juicy, who attends the University of Phoenix (one of the show’s better jokes), is joined at the party by her uncle Rev (Billy Eugene Jones), who secretly killed her father Pap (also Jones, as his ghost). had given was in jail Rave then starts cozying up to Juicy’s estranged mother Tedra (Nikki Crawford, Gertrude from “Real Housewives”), which disappoints Juicy.

Larry (Calvin Leon Smith, right) is a sailor with a secret "Fat ham" On Broadway.
Larry (Calvin Leon Smith, right) is a seaman with a secret in “Fat Ham” on Broadway.
Joan Marks

His best friend Tio (Chris Herbie Holland) is also there for the feast, along with gal pal Opal (Adriana Mitchell), his downtrodden sailor brother Larry (Calvin Lyon Smith) and their cheerful mother Rebbie (Benja Kay Thomas). is In descending order: Horatio, Ophelia, Laertes and Polonius.

For a while there is some satisfaction in experiencing the ways in which Ijams inventively reappropriates Shakespeare’s plot points and characters.

And, on the design front, it’s clever to replace the typical Danish fog with smoke from a BBQ pit on the Maruti Evans set.

Yet you begin to realize that in the end more effort went into carefully installing the pins than knocking them out. The end is trouble.

Still, the cast’s energy is warm and utterly enveloping. Spears’s Juicy, with her sideways glances and Charlie Brown’s sincerity, is lovelier than any sad Hamlet you’ll ever see.

Jones is not evil enough to kill anyone, but he is a font of mischievous energy.

And Holland has a kooky speech late in the play that’s a joy to watch and listen to, if disconnected from everything else.

That’s the thing. Most of Ijames’ “Fat Ham” are playful ideas that don’t add up. Karaoke and dance parties are great, but instead of smoke and mirrors, give us some shells and arrows.

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