FAT HAM - The Geffen Playhouse (Westwood)

Reviewed by Michael Edwards

The Geffen Playhouse's production of James I James' 2022 Pulitzer Prize winning, and 4-time Tony Award nominated comedy Fat Ham directed by Sideeq Heard, is a treat not to be missed for Los Angeles.  Based on William Shakespeare's, "Hamlet," this all African American, direct from Broadway cast stops the show on multiple levels. The belly laughs are loud, and the human drama is smart, dark, and quite cutting. This is a run, don't walk to see, 'tour de force' event. Do not miss.

When "Juicy" (our Hamlet representative) attends his recently widowed and too recently remarried mother, "Tedra" (Queen Gertrude representative) and stepfather, "Rev" (Claudius representative)'s unapologetically African American backyard barbeque, he is visited by the ghost of his recently deceased father (died in jail). He learns from his father's ghost that his brother, now stepfather, ordered the hit on him from the inside. He wants Juicy" to take revenge and kill his mother's new husband Juicy's uncle. Though this seems like a simple retelling of the plot to Hamlet, "FAT HAM" is unconcerned with such things. James Ijames script is a deep dive into the timeless behavior and culture of the African American South, be it one hundred years ago or today.  Witnessing Hamlet portrayed in this parallel universe - that is our own beautiful, deep, culturally bottomless with love but scary at times as well - is a thing of beauty and a better time than we deserve. 

First and foremost, the set illusions by Skylar Fox must receive a special bouquet for their offering. Whatever the Swedish word for 'feelings of a child being deceived by a deceptive shell game for the first time' is, it applies here. You have to see it to believe it. Absolutely wonderful.

The Broadway level, Tony nominated performers at the Geffen waste no time telling you at outset that they are here to play hard with authentic wit, direct yet unfailingly fun fourth wall breaking and complete inner mastery of potent subject matter from a razor-sharp script (James IJames). They work as a unit, figuratively holding hands throughout - shifting together to break your heart one moment and leave you in stitches the next. The cast on the evening I attended consisted of a sharp but sensitive Marcel Spears ; An explosive but melodic Chris Herbie Holland; A simply magnificent Billy Eugene Jones; A dynamically thoughtful and cutting Nikki Crawford (Tony Nominated for Best Actress -Drama); A low key show stealer, Adrianna Mitchell; A funny, strong and real Benja Kay Thomas; and a potent and powerful Matthew Elijah Webb. 

Sideeq Heard's staging at the Geffen was almost overwhelming in its comfort with itself. Every action, every cue worked confidently to support the sense of time and place, which apparently was the point. As audacious as each surprise moment was, be it directly from the Hamlet storyline or organically from the characters interactions, Mr. Heard kept us in the voyeur seat, watching human behavior in this beautiful, heightened reality.


Fat Ham runs through May 5. Performances Wed/Thurs/Fri at 8pm, Saturdays 3pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm and 7pm.  Geffen Playhouse 10886 Le Conte Ave. Los Angeles 90024

Tickets : Box Office Phone 310.208.2028   https://secure.geffenplayhouse.org/overview/fat-ham

Posted By DH Magazine on April 11, 2024 02:46 pm | Permalink