Tuesday, May 21, 2024

NewsSportsArtsOpinionThe QuadPhotoVideoIllustrationsCartoonsGraphicsThe StackPRIMEEnterpriseInteractivesPodcastsBruinwalkClassifieds


USAC Elections 2024SJP and UC Divest Coalition Demonstrations at UCLA

Theater review: ‘Fat Ham’ is a must-see ‘Hamlet’ production, keeps classic charm, makes it its own

Marcel Spears (left) and Billy Eugene Jones (right) star in “Fat Ham” at the Geffen Playhouse’s Gil Cates Theater. The reimagining of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” will run at the theater until May 5. (Courtesy of Jeff Lorch)

“Fat Ham”

March 27 - May 5

Gil Cates Theater

$45 - $139

By Yuna Choi

April 14, 2024 3:19 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Calvin Leon Smith plays Larry in the Geffen Playhouse's production of "Fat Ham." In fact, Matthew Elijah Webb plays Larry.

This post was updated April 17 at 11:50 p.m.

To go, or not to go: that is the question that “Fat Ham” successfully answers.

Written by James Ijames and brought to life by director Sideeq Heard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fat Ham” brings a classic Shakespearean drama to a backyard family barbecue. Previously on Broadway under director Saheem Ali, the production was recently relocated to the Geffen Playhouse, where it will run until May 5. In it, Juicy (Marcel Spears), the new Hamlet, confronts the aftermath of his father’s (Billy Eugene Jones) death and his mother’s (Nikki Crawford) hasty remarriage to his uncle Rev (Jones). Juicy faces a heavy dilemma once Pap reaches out to him from beyond the grave and urges him to seek revenge on his behalf by killing Rev. The bold reinterpretation breathes new life into Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy, offering a poignant exploration of identity, grief and societal expectations.

[Related: Theater review: ‘Black Cypress Bayou’ swims through murky plot to render a haunting history]

“Fat Ham” is a groundbreaking adaptation that pushes technical boundaries and challenges conventions in a reimagined “Hamlet,” centering around a queer Black protagonist navigating profound family trauma. In a strong opening, the play’s masterful use of lighting and sound when Juicy’s father first appears creates a stark contrast between the spectral realm in which the ghost appears and the rest of the play. Innovative visuals are also employed when the fourth wall is broken throughout the show, evoking an apprehensive mood and atmosphere. From actors running through the rows to Juicy lamenting directly to the audience, the production occasionally invites the audience into an interactive dimension and later even goes as far as to shine a spotlight directly on them.

Notably, the incorporation of musical numbers, including iconic tracks like Juicy’s crooning of Radiohead’s “Creep,” adds a contemporary edge to the production. The musical interludes act as emotional outlets for the characters and reflect their inner turmoils and desires.

In regard to tone, the show finds the sweet spot between comedy and insightfulness. The actors nail their comedic timing, creating a rich environment of controlled chaos. However, as the pace picks up, so does the impact of the sentimental moments that tug at the audience’s heartstrings. The dynamics onstage exquisitely mirror the complexities of real-life relationships. Drama unfolds against a backdrop of familial quirks and conflicts, and it is easy for viewers to find common ground and shared experiences within the turmoil of family life.

Amid a slate of dazzling performers, Spears and Jones take center stage for both charisma and versatility. Jones’ masterful juggling of two characters, Pap and Rev, demonstrates his extensive range as an actor. His humorous antics as Pap, like surprising the audience with his sudden and intense entrances, leave a memorable impression, injecting bursts of energy and comedic flair. However, it is Jones’ portrayal of Rev, the villain of the story, that best highlights his acting prowess. Through a commanding stage presence and subtle nuances that showcase the thick tension between him and Juicy, Jones evokes a sense of unease among the audience. On the other hand, Spears seamlessly transitions between the script’s extravagant Shakespearean English and the everyday speech of a relatable young adult. The unique juxtaposition adds depth to Juicy’s character, enriching his intense monologues.

Through stellar playwriting, the concept of revenge serves as an excellent metaphor for the perpetuation of generational trauma. Juicy grapples with either following Pap’s wishes and continuing the cycle or bearing the heavy weight of guilt that comes with leaving everything behind. The younger generation of characters are desperate to find their identities and define themselves outside of the expectations placed upon them. For instance, Pap’s praising of Marine Larry (Matthew Elijah Webb) for following traditional masculine endeavors while undercutting Juicy for being “soft” reinforces the pressure to conform to strict gender norms. Larry, however, serves as an example of breaking free of toxic masculinity as he, like the other kids, holds different dreams but refrains from openly expressing them – as Juicy does – to avoid the hostility that tags along with it. His dialogue is short and reserved unless he speaks to Juicy, which is when his language softens and starts to flow poetically.

[Related: Shakespeare Company at UCLA to bring the Bard’s tales to life in Sunday production]

Furthermore, the play’s well-developed, complex female characters contribute to the story’s moving exploration of trauma. Family friend Rabby’s (Benja Kay Thomas) unilateral announcement of her children’s futures without considering their opinions or aspirations demonstrates the lack of autonomy of the younger generation due to predetermined roles stifling their individual expression. Additionally, Juicy’s mother Tedra is a multifaceted character who supports Juicy in her own way, yet never definitively stands up for him. As both an enabler of the bullying actions of her new husband and a victim of the cycle of violence herself, she admits she cannot be happy if she is alone. Tedra remarkably demonstrates how individuals may become trapped in destructive cycles despite having the best intentions.

For theater enthusiasts, “Fat Ham” is a must-see production that uses the bones of the classic Shakespearean tale and completely makes it its own. The only critique may be that the ending, despite its extravagance, was a bit rushed, as a major plot point seemed to be glossed over. In spite of this, the show excellently highlights the impact of generational trauma on families, and the exploration of queerness within this context is a central theme that resonates throughout the play. The production demonstrates the complexities of breaking free from harmful patterns and reflects upon the enduring quest for identity.

Viewers should get ready to be swept away by the masterful performance, as the adaptation provides “a mirror of our humanity.”

Share this story:FacebookTwitterRedditEmail
Yuna Choi
Featured Classifieds
Apartments for Rent

WESTWOOD VILLAGE Large 1BR 1 Bath $2,700 (includes 1 parking space). ONLY TWO LEFT!!! Available July 1 and September 1. Beautifully landscaped courtyard building, laundry room, pool, elevator, subterranean garage. 691 Levering Avenue leveringheights.com (310) 208-3647

More classifieds »
Related Posts