Few scenarios are ripe with as much drama as a Black family barbecue. Secrets, revenge and war (usually over the best dishes, but war nonetheless) play out over a steaming grill and a good beat. So it makes sense that a barbecue became the breeding ground for James Ijames’ Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation of one of the most well-known tragedies in the Western canon: “Hamlet.”
Ijames’ riff on the tale, titled “Fat Ham,” serves an endless tray of delight. The script explodes with erotic humor and youthful energy, but it’s grounded by its exploration of Black queer love and Ijames’ intrepid control over both Shakespearean and Southern speech. Even though the production is misleadingly marketed as a glittery disco party, “Fat Ham” is the most grueling play I have seen on Broadway in years. But director Saheem Ali and his design team dress “Fat Ham” up like a Todrick Hall music video when Ijames’ script has the rigor of Audre Lorde prose. And because of that, every bit of sparkle added — boisterous direction, a garish set, even a confetti cannon — ironically dulls the play’s brilliance.