Photo: Rich Soublet II.

Fat Ham

The Old Globe Theatre, San Diego

Written by:
Josh Baxt
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There are fine shows, and there are good shows and there are shows that are just beyond. Fat Ham is that. A finely tuned synthesis of comedy, tragedy, music, dancing and casual zaniness, this reimagining of Hamlet defies categorization. It just is.

Juicy (Sola Fadiran) is a young, inexperienced gay man living with his mother in some marginally southern state. His father was recently murdered, and his mom just remarried his uncle. When the show begins, Juicy and his buddy Tio (Xavier Pacheco) are setting up the wedding reception – complete with red cups and mylar balloons.

But soon, the ghost of Pap (Ethan Henry) appears to tell Juicy that his brother had him murdered and to seek revenge. Juicy doesn’t particularly like his father, or want to kill anyone, and stews on the suggestion.

Soon Juicy’s uncle, Rev (also Ethan Henry) and mother Tedra (Felicia Boswell) show up in all their aggressive glory. They are soon joined by Rabby (Yvette Cason) and her two children Opal (m) and Larry (Tian Richards).

Nobody says Juicy is gay; they’ve given him a special pejorative: soft. Both his father and uncle are proud of their masculine toughness and ashamed of Juicy for not embracing it. Tedra tries to mediate, but she really doesn’t have the tools. Tio avoids the crossfire. Rabby, Opal and Larry have their own fish to fry. Juicy struggles with the whole situation: Should he obey the father he hates to murder the uncle he hates?

The show doesn’t mimic Hamlet so much as extrapolate it, exploring a whole different species of family dysfunction. Ijames does a brilliant job (Fat Ham did win the Pulitzer) of interlacing Shakespeare’s words but often in completely different contexts. Sometimes, it’s just a single Elizabethan word thrown discordantly into the mix.

Ijames uses every trick available to evoke laughter, poignance and empathy. He obliterates the fourth wall. Fat Ham oscillates between quiet and cacophony, with potential violence always an eyelash away. And it all works.

The cast is incredible with Fadiran nailing Juicy’s anger and vulnerability; m delivering on Opal’s ambivalence, and Richards offering his own study in quiet contradictions. Boswell is a force of nature as the bawdy Tedra, and Henry kills it as Pap/Rev. Pacheco delivers a fetishy VR soliloquy that is still making me giggle. Fat Ham is expertly rendered on every level. It’s the show to see.

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