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*Fat Ham,* March 29, 2023

Karen and I saw *Fat Ham* on Broadway on March 29, 2023. It's a new play by James Ijames. It had its debut as a filmed production in Philadelphia in 2021 during the Covid lockdown. It moved to the Public Theater here in NYC in 2022, won that year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and is now in previews on Broadway.


It's an adaptation of *Hamlet* set in the contemporary American South with an all-Black cast. It was Black positive, queer positive, Southern positive! Ijames took the bare bones of the *Hamlet* skeleton and wrapped some new, juicy flesh around it, made it strut and dance and shake its nasty thang. 


The opening scene was alarmingly close to the original - - Karen and I both thought, "How the hell are they going to get through this in 95 minutes?" But it took a sharp left turn pretty quickly and went off in its own marvelous direction. It still stayed sort of close to the original story but (without giving any spoilers) the ending had no resemblance to *Hamlet.*


Here's a later scene, between the Hamlet character and his mother. In *Fat Ham* he decides to "catch the conscience of the king" by playing charades, rather than bringing in a troupe of actors to do a play. This is the scene that follows the charades scene:



It was thrilling to be in the presence of such exciting, daring, and well-crafted writing. The audience was hanging on every word - - laughing, applauding, and that most rare and precious of audience reactions, gasping. The general tone was zany and clever but there were moments of sudden, intense drama. These moments had great impact because they were used so sparingly. Director Saleem Ali did an expert job of keeping things moving and creating a consistent tone.


Karen and I were intrigued by two other elements in the play: first, about halfway through the Hamlet character was alone onstage - - the lights changed so there was an overhead spotlight on him and semi-darkness on the rest of the stage. He did one of Hamlet's soliloquies, word for word out of the original text. The actor did it in a charmingly offhand manner, which made it seem like not so much of an intrusion from the established language of the play. This Shakespeare Invasion happened twice and both times it was a little thrill.


And second, there were three or four moments of breaking down the third wall, always a fun thing if it's done well. One of them came after Hamlet had been alone onstage, talking to the audience, this time in his own language. His mother came onstage and said, "What you telling them?"


Ijames wrote parts for seven wonderful actors and gave them each a moment to shine. This is an act of great generosity, appreciated by the actors and by the audience. Five members of the cast are making their Broadway debuts. I can't remember the last time I went to a play and had so much FUN.

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