‘Fat Ham’ Broadway Review: Shakespeare’s Black, Queer Portion Is A Delicious Play

Like that relative who rummages through chicken parts at a family picnic to find the leg, breast or thigh with just the right amount of crunch, playwright James Ijames has no qualms about rummaging through the bones of Shakespeare’s play. Village to cook the irresistible fat ham.

Bold in some ways, quietly tame in others, the Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy carries the burden of our expectations more lightly than some other award winners heading to Broadway recently, including Between Riverside and Crazy, Cost of Living and even a strange loopthe scenic work that fat ham shares their concerns about masculinity (mostly of the toxic variety), queerness, and the search for, or insistence on, love and acceptance within the family and, very specifically, the Black faith community.

Inspired and borrowing its base from Shakespeare’s work. Village, fat ham and its author slip plot points, characters and, in a surprising and charming interlude, a soliloquy, to tell the story of Juicy (Marcel Spears), a young queer black man described as “thicc” by his loving mother Tedra ( Nikki Crawford), “suave” by both Pap, the ghost of her abusive and revenge-seeking father, and his equally nasty Uncle Rev (both played by Billy Eugene Jones), and “opulent” by an admirer who shouldn’t be revealed for fear of a spoiler.

Company ‘Fat Ham’ (Credit: Joan Marcus)

Set at a backyard barbecue somewhere (possibly) in North Carolina, fat ham follows its sensitive, mostly complacent, frequently brooding, and utterly indecisive (sound familiar?) protagonist as he struggles to find his place in the world, or at least within his own family. The barbecue is held to celebrate the wedding of Juicy’s mother, Tedra, recently widowed, and the infamous Uncle Rev, and follows the death of Juicy’s father, who he mostly despises, so closely that a funeral wreath it is still only a few feet from the picnic table.

To complicate matters: Dad’s ghost has just appeared (from under a picnic blanket) to Juicy, with the news that Uncle Rev was responsible for his death in prison. Pap wants revenge and demands that Juicy take action.

there are enough Village The allusions continue to convince us that Juicy could move on. Cousin Opal (Ophelia’s stand-in, played by Adrianna Mitchell) is up for it, and best friend Tio (Chris Herbie Holland, holding up Horatio’s ending) needs little help since he, too, has seen the ghost. We suspect even mom Tedra would be so sad to see the nasty Rev get his comeuppance from her, and family friend Rabby (Benja Kay Thomas, in church lady mode) is there mostly for the ribs. We get clues as to what Larry (Calvin Leon Smith), a handsome childhood friend and new Marine (and Laertes’ replacement) has in mind, but we won’t know for sure until he gets a moment alone with Juicy.

Excellent performance by the entire cast. fat ham director Saheem Ali deftly transferred it to Broadway from the smaller space of the Off-Broadway Public Theater (the play originated from a filmed Covid-era performance at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia). By turns sweet and cheeky (and very funny), the play stays close enough to Village to keep us off balance. There will be blood (okay, a little) and death, though, along with an excellent rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” and recitations of at least a few of VillageJuicy’s greatest hits aren’t To Be or Not To Be though, as Juicy’s doubts are of a less existential kind, Ijames’s work resolves itself on an uplifting and life-affirming note. Or, to be more precise, notes, as in song and dance, and enough genre-bending disco glitz to win over all but the grumpiest of spirits.

Qualification: fat ham
Event: Broadway American Airlines Theater
Playwright: james james
Director: sahim ali
Cast: Marcel Spears, Nikki Crawford, Chris Herbie Holland, Billy Eugene Jones, Adrianna Mitchell, Calvin Leon Smith, Benja Kay Thomas
Execution time: 95 minutes (without intermission)

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