Playwright looks for the comedy of 'Hamlet' with contemporary retelling in 'Fat Ham'
Imagine taking one of the stage's great tragedies and turning it into a comedy. Well, that is what playwright James Ijames has done with the critically acclaimed "Fat Ham" now in performances at the Public Theatre.
"It's a riff on Hamlet. The word hamlet with ham. And I thought it would make people smile when they read it, " says Ijames.
Just as in the Shakespeare play, the ghost of Hamlet's father appears to tell his son to avenge his murder by killing his uncle. But Ijames always felt there was potential for comedy in Hamlet.
"I'm also really curious about the humor in Shakespeare's tragedies and what happens if you lean into that. The humor in the circumstances like a ghost comes to you says, 'Your uncle killed me.' And that sets you off to a whole bunch of things. Well, there's some humor in that."
His contemporary retelling of the story is set in the American South at a family cookout. Ijames' Hamlet is the character Juicy, a gay college student struggling to find his place within his family and society.
"I know for me growing up in the South it was very difficult to be honest about my sexuality. And so I wanted to see a play, to write a play where the character is grappling with that, makes some decisions about how to meet that and ultimately is liberated by that," Ijames said.
Last month, Ijames received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for "Fat Ham" before the play had even begun its first staged production. There was a filmed version of "Fat Ham" streamed last year by Philadelphia's Wilma Theatre where Ijames is co-artistic director.
"Fat Ham," produced in cooperation with Black National Theatre, is running through July 3 at the Public Theatre.