“We tragic,” says Juicy, the titular “fat Ham”, in James Ijames’ revisionist, renegade take on HAMLET. Far from it. But this play, and Alice Childress’ WEDDING BAND long before it, want us to think so until they can explode the notion with raucous joy (FAT HAM) and rage (WEDDING BAND). Familiar assumptions about tragedy, the tragedy of racism particularly, are way beside the point. Both of these plays are a blast: one of pleasure, one of pain. What’s tragic is what occasions suffering and the inability to transform it into a sort of radical pleasure. Childress’ play from 1962 is, like TROUBLE IN MIND, structurally familiar; it ambles until it explodes. This production, which ended yesterday, suffered from the choice to
present it runway style, with the audience on either side. Unfortunately, for me anyway, I heard only about half of the play. For some reason, the Polonsky Center, an adaptable stage space, sounded like an echo chamber in this configuration. A proscenium would have been a wiser choice here. But it says something about Childress that, even stripped of much verbal clarity, her fury is nonetheless coherent. The play is forceful beyond speech. FAT HAM is more audible but, purposefully I expect, not altogether clear. In this gloss on HAMLET, Ham's the only sane one; everyone around him is crazy. The play’s a madcap jumble. I was carried along and often delighted by it even as I wasn’t sure what it was or where it was going. Damn the readiness, the revelry was all. And the rest, whatever it is, is not silence.