There is just one factor that makes me want I wasn’t finding out overseas this semester — Fats Ham, a comedy written by James Ijames, is on Broadway and I actually need to go see it. The play ran from Might to July final 12 months on the Public Theater in New York, after premiering as a streaming manufacturing (thanks, pandemic) at Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater and profitable the Pulitzer Prize in drama.
Fats Ham, a comedic reinterpretation loosely primarily based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, caught my eye for 2 causes: I had simply completed writing a paper on a modern-day Shakespeare adaptation, and Colman Domingo (who performs Ali in Euphoria) is co-producing the play. He posted about it on Instagram — and sure, I comply with Domingo on Instagram.
Memorable variations of Shakespeare are few and much between. As a lot as I get pleasure from Shakespeare by itself, it’s solely when writers deliver one thing new and private to the desk does the piece actually grow to be thrilling.
What’s nice about Fats Ham, judging by the few clips and trailers I might discover, is the way it manages to mess around with borrowed bits of Shakespeare materials in a grounded, light-hearted method. A great portion of the play goes down round a yard cookout, the place everyone prays earlier than the meal: “it’s my try to deliver the black South nearer to those performs and to Shakespeare’s language,” Ijames says in an interview with PBS.
I imply, actually, what does Shakespeare need to do with it? “It’s my dialog with Shakespeare,” says Ijames, “it’s me attempting to, like, discuss to the man.” On this planet of drama and theater, Shakespeare is a beacon of legitimacy and legibility. What’s at stake is to not overrule however to overwrite: Ijames loves Shakespeare, however there must be a essential distance that permits Fats Ham to face its personal floor. Take this second for instance, when Juicy, the Hamlet-equivalent protagonist — however this time a queer school child finding out human assets — addresses the topic of Shakespeare itself. The play turns into self-aware, interrogating its personal legacy:
– It’s Shakespeare. Type Of.
– You watch an excessive amount of PBS.
– In the event you deliver up that lifeless previous white man one mo time … Don’t no person wanna speak about his ass. You act like he received all of the solutions. You look loopy out right here quoting Shakespeare and shit.
– Nicely, it appears acceptable.
– Applicable my ass.
By bringing in Shakespeare and making him considerably irrelevant, James Ijames re-establishes his personal authorship: Fats Ham is completely Ijames’ narrative. “He can’t say a lot to me now,” Ijames replies when requested in regards to the Bard. But it surely’s actually extra delicate: a superb portion of Fats Ham reenacts Hamlet, particularly the uncle who murders the daddy and the son who seeks revenge. The similarities, nevertheless, finish there. In Fats Ham, we’re within the shut quarters of a black household in North Carolina, the place Juicy argues along with his mom over a spherical of charades, and begins to contemplate his inherited trauma (“Look, I’ve been speaking to my therapist about you,” begins Tío, Juicy’s greatest good friend). Ijames majorly rewires the tragedy that undergirds Hamlet, making Juicy decidedly “smooth” (carrying a shirt that claims “mama’s boy”) and susceptible, broaching subjects like remedy and cycles of violence.
Fats Ham shouldn’t be delivered within the language of Shakespeare. As an alternative of discovering consolation in a canonical replica the place actors all communicate in iambic pentameter, the play expresses its lyricism free from the constraints of conventional English verse. The language that Ijames brings to life situates us definitively within the American South. Right here, the trials and tribulations that Juicy goes via are extra necessary than symbolic revenge, and Ijames values therapeutic and collective pleasure above the tragic fantastic thing about a massacre. On a set that resembles the house he grew up in, Fats Ham is far nearer to Ijames than it’s to Shakespeare.
The Nationwide Black Theatre’s first manufacturing on Broadway, Fats Ham is a part of an rising physique of labor written by younger black playwrights. Amongst them is Michael R. Jackson, whose heartfelt musical A Unusual Loop (additionally beforehand on Broadway) offers with an artist’s self-doubt and the predominantly cis-gendered, white theater scene. Whereas Fats Ham feedback on the legacy of Shakespeare, A Unusual Loop feedback on the recognition of an older black playwright, Tyler Perry. Departing from performs like A Raisin within the Solar that sought to talk for a black public within the Fifties, the works of Jackson and Ijames each intention to problem and provoke.
I can’t stress sufficient the significance of experiencing theater dwell. Fats Ham, like Hamlet, must be skilled in a bodily house — an emotive house of pressure and pleasure at that. No quantity of silent script-reading will substitute for the intentional and oriented design of a dwell theater set; and the ephemerality of dwell efficiency makes it further sacred. Please go see Fats Ham on Broadway — I need to hear all about it.
Skylar Xu is a junior within the School of Arts & Sciences. They are often reached at [email protected] Seeing Double runs alternate Thursdays.