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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

The Huntington’s production of Fat Ham remixes a classic tale for today’s world

Courtesy T Charles Erickson

From “10 Things I Hate About You” to “She’s The Man” and “West Side Story,” modern Shakespeare adaptations have been weaving comedic stylings to reinvigorate classic tales.

“Fat Ham,” an adaptation of “Hamlet” that is equal parts moving and laugh-out-loud funny, shows at The Huntington’s Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA from Sept. 22 to Oct. 29.

Written by James Ijames and directed by Stevie Walker-Webb, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play follows Juicy, a queer black man in the South, as his father’s ghost appears at a barbeque and insists Juicy avenge his murder. Traditional Shakespearean elements are blended with a modern setting, humor and musical moments scattered throughout.

Victoria Omoregie’s character, Opal, serves as the Ophelia character from “Hamlet.” In an interview with the Beacon, she explained that all aspects of the production, including the specificity in the script and the blueprint it lays out for the set design, modernizes the source material to build on the classic story.

“[‘Fat Ham’] pulls the big storyline of Hamlet, but remixes it to fit a new different culture, like today’s culture [and] today’s world,” Omoregie said.

The Huntington has long been a proponent of equity in theater, creating educational opportunities for people in the Boston community and removing barriers that may prevent people from having opportunities to be involved.

Omoregie’s Huntington debut is made extra meaningful as she is an alum of Huntington’s educational program and their August Wilson monologue competition. With “Fat Ham,” Omoregie checks off a long-term goal of performing on the Huntington stage.

“To do a show with them now I feel very humbled and honored, very grateful and super duper excited,” she said.

Emerson professor and scenic designer Luciana Stecconi emphasizes the intentionality woven throughout the production, explaining that the set design is intended to be a playground for the director and actors to explore, thus elevating the themes and the dialogue in the play.

“Very little is just decorative; everything has a meaning,” she said. “Everything is connected to what the actors and what the characters have to do on stage.”

Stecconi explained the unique challenges and perspective “Fat Ham” visually provides, especially in relation to the hyper-realistic set design.

“It created a good tension between this environment feeling realistic, and then all of a sudden there is a shift in tone and it’s not realistic anymore,” Stecconi said.

The design invites audiences to buy into this realism, which allows juxtaposition to the magical, illusionary elements emblematic of a Shakespeare play.

Not only has “Fat Ham” shown its impactful for audiences, but Omoregie also elaborates on how acting in it has affected her personally.

“This show has taught me to always be listening, always make sure that I am understanding someone, doing my own research on things that I don’t identify with, [and] really listening to stories on other people’s experiences, especially people in the queer community,” she said.

“Fat Ham” strikes an intricate balance between humor and darker thematic elements as well as the social issues it addresses, specifically with the queer community. Omoregie points to the difficult conversations that it provokes, and explains that it “forces people in the audience to see themselves [and] identify with people,” an impact that she hopes is strong enough to open minds.

Omoregie also spoke to the importance of diversity in the Boston theater scene as a whole, and the intentionality of staging this production. “Fat Ham” continues this conversation to theater audiences, and demonstrates the community and supportive space that theater can provide.

“Theater audiences are predominantly white, so when you’re telling this black story, with black bodies on a theater stage, it’s inviting people who can see themselves be actors and see themselves in this story,” she said.

Omoregie also praises the supportive environment where the cast feels like a true community.

“I can lean on my brother in the play, my mom in the play, I can lean on anyone,’’ she said. “As an actor it’s taught me to understand what a true ensemble is and what a true community is when you have such an amazing cast like this one.”

Every aspect—from the technical production elements and set design to the supportive cast and crew—creates an intriguing, powerful show.

“It’s a show like you have never seen before, it is hilarious and it is layered,” Omoregie said.

Stecconi praises the universality of the play, explaining how effective and relatable it can be to a variety of audiences, especially with the themes of family, identity, and transformation.

“You will laugh so much, but at the same time, you leave the theater completely moved and hopefully transformed,” she said.

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