Fat Ham won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Now you can enjoy it.

It’s as if a transparent paper plane had suddenly shot across the stage. This is a spirit, the first thing of hamlet on the subject of James Ijames’ reinterpretation of this Shakespeare play, Fat ham (Public Theater through July 3), which recently won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The play, a co-production of the National Black Theater and the Public Theatre, is set not at the Danish court of yore but in the present at a barbecue celebration in the south backyard of the wedding of Tedra (Nikki Crawford) and her late husband, Brother Rev (Billy Eugene Jones).

But instead of the tragedy-and-then-something hamletthis is a piece that emphasizes life, and especially black, strange joy, while questioning all things that conspire to negate the life and feelings of the central character of Juicy (Marcel Spears), who is Hamlet .ish rather than a direct transposition, reluctant to follow the full tragic trajectory of the iconic Shakespearean character. In a nod to Shakespeare, Jones also plays Pap, Tedra’s dead husband who has returned to Chivvy and haunts his son as a ghost, encouraging him to murder the man who supplanted him.

The piece lasts a compact 90 minutes, but is just as dense and thoughtful as it is light-footed and irreverent. Tio (Chris Herbie Holland), a modern day cousin of Horatio, begins the play trying to figure out if the world of porn is for him, and later delivers a stunning monologue about the sexual pleasures that come with gingerbread men .

Tio opens up about Juicy’s predicament. “Your daddy went to jail, his daddy went to jail, his daddy went to jail, his daddy went to jail, and what was before that? huh? Slavery. It’s an inherited trauma. You’re carrying your whole family’s trauma with you, man. And that’s okay. You are OK. But you can’t let it define you.” The play questions how Juicy follows Tio’s words of wisdom and avoids the tragedy of hamlet, especially when Rev takes every opportunity to humiliate Juicy so cruelly? If anyone demands revenge, it’s him.

The other characters include Opal (Adrianna Mitchell) as a replacement for Ophelia, Larry (Calvin Leon Smith) for Laertes. Her mother Rabby (Benja Kay Thomas) is ominously watching the rioting unfold, but after both Opal and Larry, a soldier, have their own secrets to uncover, it comes not to a rushed judgement, but to a revelation of their own.


Benja Kay Thomas in “Fat Ham”.

Johanna Marcus

The play is very funny and also captivating. As we watch Rev’s abuse of Juicy, we also sense that Juicy will be fine. He knows no rejection, but still craves warmth and a sense of grounding. He’s the best kind of prick; He’s even mocked for taking online courses to study (actually, that’s pretty funny in the play). As his mother, Crawford, who is also the show’s dance captain, plays a woman emerging from grief who, despite all the tensions around her, insists it will be the best time of her life.

Directed by Saheem Ali with design by Maruti Evans, Fat ham don’t exactly reinvent hamlet as much as taking its strands and outlines and making something new. Spears is wonderful like Juicy; a young man who is completely himself. Wait for his declarative karaoke outburst; It’s one of those theatrical moments that you laugh at first because it seems so extreme, then you watch Spears inhabit the song and the artist, and it feels every bit as grounding and insightful as his recasting of some intact original Shakespearean monologues. We even get a perfectly timed and placed “There’s the rub,” referring to spice rub.

“The simplicity of his rejection of one behavior and his acceptance of another is refreshing in itself. change is possible; we just have to want it and draw the damn lines in the sand.”

Throughout the play, the characters occasionally acknowledged us or addressed us directly. We can see how sad Juicy is, but also how smart and above all she is. He is nobody’s fool, tool or victim. We see the love he has for Larry, and we see – in Larry’s adoration for him – a beautiful deconstruction of the “softness” that Juicy embodies and that the play encourages.

Juicy is “soft,” and the play is a manifesto for the same – for softness, kindness, and reconciliation to replace violence, division, and resentment. Juicy’s strength isn’t that he shies away from confrontation, nor that he’s incapable of violence; he is, and he is, a victim of it, physically (a shocking momentary slap) and verbally. He ultimately just chooses to walk away from both of them. The simplicity of his rejection of one behavior and his acceptance of another is refreshing in itself. change is possible; we just have to want it and draw the damn lines in the sand.


The cast of “Fat Ham”.

Johanna Marcus

Yes, there’s a climax fight, but the stage won’t be filled with the blood and bodies of normalhamlet, but with some sighs and tidying up, life goes on, with smiles, laughter and dancing. The carnage-heavy end of hamlet will be rewritten. Fat ham does not end, but does not end with firm declarations that they are all done with stupid violence. The dead are casually raised. The disco begins.

A play about power and conspiracy is ultimately a play about multifaceted coming out and pride and the importance of finding places of safety, love and community. And danced so much at the end. Fat Ham won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Now you can enjoy it.


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