A young man’s father is killed. His uncle marries his widowed mother, and while they celebrate the nuptials, the young man is visited by his father’s ghost, who accuses the uncle of murder. This is, to use playwright James Ijames’ language, “a kind of” Hamlet.
Fat Ham is set in the present, at a ranch-style house in North Carolina. In the script, Juicy (Marcel Spears) is described as “pensive, thicc and gay.” His father went to prison for killing someone because his breath stank, and he in turn was killed when he was shanked on his way to dinner. A close friend, Tio (Chris Herbie Holland), isn’t far off the mark when he tells Juicy, “These cycles of violence are like deep … You carrying around your whole family’s trauma man.” Like Hamlet, who stood in contrast to his warmongering father, Juicy is not violent. Sure, his uncle Rev (Billy Eugene Jones) is gross—not to mention the fact that he used Juicy’s college money to remodel the bathroom—but his dad was an asshole and his mom (Nikki Crawford) seems happy. It’s entirely possible that the ghost is lying. Why does this all need to end in tragedy?
Perhaps because of its setting—Fat Ham takes place during a barbecue, and Rev is a pig farmer and pit master—the action of the play bears some resemblance to Scotland, PA, a 2001 comedy that staged Macbeth in a fast food restaurant. But that was cynical comedy; Ijames’ major intervention is to offer a humanistic alternative to tragedy. Generations of violence have influenced both Hamlet and Juicy, limiting the choices they are expected to make. Still, Ijames insists they can make others; they can put down the poisoned blades and choose happiness. Hamlet and Laertes, and Juicy and Larry (Calvin Leon Smith), can kiss rather than kill.
Fat Ham runs through July 2nd at the American Airlines Theatre. 227 W. 42nd Street New York, NY. 1 hour 35 minutes. No intermission. Photograph by Joan Marcus.