Wednesday, May 22, 2024

EUR Theater Review: ‘Fat Ham’ Features Shakespearean-themed Shenanigans at a Backyard Boogie!

Photo Credit: Justin Bettman

*Talk about giving Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” a facelift/reimage; well, how about moving it from Denmark to somewhere in the South, and instead of a royal family, you have a bar-b-que empire. What about making Hamlet a fat, Black, gay man named Juicy? Yep, that is “Fat Ham,” the James Ijames written, Pulitzer Prize-winning, Tony Award-nominated stage play, which is being performed now through May 5, at the beautiful Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, CA.

Juicy and the Ghost of Pap / Photo Credit: Jeff Lorch

While Juicy (Marcel Spears) is preparing a backyard boogie bar-b-que reception to celebrate his mother Tedra’s (Nikki Crawford) wedding to his late father’s brother Rev (Billy Eugene Jones) (ala Claudius marrying Gertrude), Juicy’s father’s ghost (also Billy Eugene Jones) comes to him and tells him Rev had him killed and that Juicy must avenge his death.

The request torments soft-hearted Juicy, who only wants to go to school, which he is bashed for because it is an online program. Juicy has a buddy, Tio (Chris Herbie Holland) (ala Horatio), who watches porn on his phone, talks about creating an OnlyFans page, smokes weed and hallucinates about gingerbread and blowjobs.

To say they are polar opposites would be a gross understatement. Other characters include Opal (Adrianna Mitchell), whose churchgoing mother, Rabby (Benja Kay Thomas), forces her to wear a dress when she longs to express her true self, and her brother Larry (Matthew Elijah Webb), a marine with a secret.

Backyard boogie with cast of characters / Photo Credit: Jeff Lorch

There were shenanigans galore in this play and secrets coming out like clowns getting out of a Volkswagen. There were also obvious messages, like “to thy own self be true.” (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) Fat Ham is just the right mixture of comedy and sensitivity. The relationship between Juicy and his mother, Tedra, was interesting, complex, and sensitive, as Juicy walked a tightrope as he agonized over what to do about his father’s death.

Fat Ham Cast Photo Credit: Jordan Strauss

The cast was excellent and the acting top-notch. It was easy to see why Nikki Crawford was nominated for a Tony award for her performance. Fat Ham was directed on Broadway by Saheem Ali, but using Assistant Director, Sideeq Heard, to direct the Los Angeles Geffen performances, did not cause a hitch in the plays get-a-long.

Although Fat Ham was inspired by Hamlet, and there were specific lines in the play that were obvious Hamlet references, anyone without Hamlet knowledge can follow and enjoy this play. The ghosts’ visuals were impressive, as was a scene where the dead uncle was covered up, and surprised upon the unveiling.

If “they” can model The Lion King after Hamlet, and turn it into the mother of all stage productions, then why not Fat Ham? They did, and it worked. Do not take my word for it. Go to the Geffen Playhouse between now and May 5, and see for yourself. This is not your ancestor’s Hamlet! Kudos to James Ijames, Sideeq Heard and everyone who made Fat Ham a production worth seeing.


Marilyn Smith is a Los Angeles-based writer/reviewer. Contact her via [email protected]

Fat Ham” is now playing at the Gil Cates Theatre at the Geffen Playhouse through May 5.

Tickets range in price from $39-$129 and showtimes are 8pm Wednesdays-Fridays, 3 and 8pm Saturdays, 2 and 7pm Sundays.  It has a running time of 1 hour, 40 minutes with no intermission.

For tickets visit geffenplayhouse.org or call 310-208- 2028.

If you are interested in group sales and/or becoming a theater partner, contact Karen Gutierrez, Director of Advertising & Audience Development at [email protected].

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