Fat Ham(let)

It has been a trend since the 1900s to adapt Shakespearean classics to modern contexts. Sometimes, these reimagined plays go unnoticed, and people may not even realize they are based on Shakespeare’s original stories. For instance, West Side Story (based on Romeo and Juliet), The Lion King (based on Hamlet), Deliver Us From Eva (based on Taming of the Shrew), and the recently released Anyone But You (based on Much Ado About Nothing) are some examples of such adaptations.

James Ijames’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fat Ham, offers a unique and refreshing perspective on the classic tale of Hamlet. Set in the American South, the play introduces Juicy, a queer, Black version of Hamlet. Juicy is haunted by the ghost of his father seeking revenge against his uncle, who is now married to his mother. Sound familiar?

Although some character names are similar to those in Hamlet (Opal instead of Ophelia and Tio instead of Horatio), and the bones of Fat Ham‘s story are familiar, there are significant differences between this production and Shakespeare’s original work. While Hamlet is a tragedy, Fat Ham is a comedy, and though both explore themes of revenge, identity, and family, Juicy’s perspective differs from that of the Prince of Denmark.

Another difference is that this play takes place in a North Carolina backyard. Dramaturg TJ Young explains that for Fat Ham “This backyard is where the past meets the present, often colliding and refracting each other, before exploding into a celebration of acceptance and femininity…

The question of will a murder take place still remains, but it is woven with explorations of masculinity, sexuality, softness, and joy.”

Like many Shakespeare adaptations, you don’t need to know the original story to enjoy the show, but knowing the original story can make the experience much more thrilling. Don’t miss Fat Ham at PlayMakers Repertory Company on stage January 31 – February 18, 2024.