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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

February 8, 2024 Issue
PART 5 (February 6, 2023)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.


Fat Ham Is a Hilarious, Tender, and Thoughtful Romp

Nate John Mark (left) and Heinley Gaspard star as Tio and Juicy in Fat Ham at PlayMakers Repertory Company (photo by HuthPhoto)

What happens when you take William Shakespeare's Hamlet, alter and update a few details, and set it at a modern-day barbecue? In the case of James Ijames' 2022 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fat Ham, directed by Jade King Carroll and onstage now through PlayMakers Repertory Company, the result is something hilarious, refreshing, and contemplative.

The story, which centers around young Juicy (Heinley Gaspard), is set in an unnamed but distinctly Southern town in North Carolina, and features a fully North Carolina-based creative team and cast. The characters' familiar world is brought to life with Jan Chambers' impressive, well-designed set. Featuring a functional house, an eclectically decorated yard, the greenest grass, and a full grill, it instantly transports viewers to the tension-filled barbecue.

That tension results from the fact that Juicy has recently lost his father, and his mother, Tedra (Rasool Jahan), has chosen to "replace" him by marrying his brother, Rev. Samuel Ray Gates does double duty, portraying both the aforementioned father, Pap, who appears to Juicy in ghost form and asks him to confront Rev and avenge his death. But, luckily, Juicy knows the story of Hamlet well and uses his knowledge to try and change the plight of all involved.

Heinley Gaspard and Rasool Jahan star as Juicy and Tedra in PlayMakers' rendition of James Ijames' Fat Ham (photo by HuthPhoto)

The outcome isn't all that this play attempts to change either. Ijames' smart script takes an up-close-and-personal look at family dynamics, sexuality, and the difficulty involved in breaking generational cycles. And, if all of that sounds heavy, it is. Yet, this show never feels weighed down or overbearing. Instead, it zips along at a smooth 90 minutes and carefully infuses humor and light into a story rife with tough topics.

Much of that humor comes from James Ijames' whiplash-fast dialogue; but Juicy's friend, Tio, hilariously portrayed by a charming Nate John Mark, dishes up more than his fair share of the laughs. Mark's comedic timing is always perfect. He delivers lines at just the right time and with just the right cadence to slice through tension without negating the story's depth. However, he's just one part of a powerhouse cast. Heinley Gaspard makes for a relatable, sympathetic lead, whereas Samuel Ray Gates' commanding presence adds intensity and strikes fear at all the right moments.

Later in the story, viewers also get to meet Larry (Jamar Jones) and his sister Opal (Mengwe Wapimewah), two young people who, like Juicy, are trying to change the world they've found themselves in and their future fates. Both deliver compelling performances as they face off against their overbearing mother, Rabby, effectively and believably portrayed by Kathryn Hunter-Williams.

PlayMakers Rep's production of Fat Ham stars Heinley Gaspard (left) as Juicy and Samuel Ray Gates as Rev (photo by HuthPhoto)

As the characters' modern dialogue melds with Shakespeare's famed words, Jade King Carroll's crystal-clear direction and smooth pacing keep viewers fully immersed in this Fourth Wall-breaking world, where anything can happen. And, while it wouldn't be fair to spoil the ending, suffice it to say that viewers will hang on every word and every action until the end.

What theatergoers will be left with as this anxious, funny ride comes to a close is the idea that the world as they know it is always moving forward. It's up to them -- just as it's up to these characters -- to choose what they do with that forward momentum. Hopeful, uplifting, and as tender and tragic as slow-cooked pork, Fat Ham exemplifies the kind of forward-thinking, original, and engaging theater that we could all use a second (or third) helping of.

The cast includes Kathryn Hunter-Williams (left) as Rabby, Mengwe Wapimewah as Opal, and Jamar Jones as Larry (photo by HuthPhoto)

James Ijames' FAT HAM (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 6-11 and 13-18), adapted from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, directed by Jade King Carroll, and starring Heinley Gaspard as Juicy, Samuel Ray Gates as Rev/Pap, Kathryn Hunter-Williams as Rabby, Rasool Jahan as Tedra, Nate John Mark as Horatio as Tio, Jamar Jones as Larry, and Mengwe Wapimewah as Opal (PlayMakers Repertory Company in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC-Chapel Hill's Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art). TRAILER: PRC VIDEOS: PRESENTER:,,,, and 2023-24 SEASON: PRC BLOG: VENUE: and DIRECTIONS/PARKING: CAROLINA TOGETHER COVID-19 PAGE: FAT HAM (2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama-winning Off-Broadway and 2023 Broadway Play):,,, and JAMES IJAMES (Winston-Salem, NC-born playwright and actor):,,,, , and NOTE 1: Seed Art Share of Raleigh will provide onsite childcare for ages 4-12 for $25 for the 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4th, performance. NOTE 2: The 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11th, performance will be an open-captioned performance, with a "universal-access" live-caption unit, communicating dialog, stage directions, and sound effects. NOTE 3: There will be a post-show discussion after the 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11th, performance. NOTE 4: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe and American-sign-language interpret the show's 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13th, performance. TICKETS: $20 and up ($10 students and youth), plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: 919-962-7529 or [email protected]. PLEASE DONATE TO: PlayMakers Repertory Company. Melissa Rooney's Triangle Review Review Permalink. Susie Potter's Triangle Arts Review Review.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh's Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read more of Susie Potter's writings, click,, and


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