A backyard barbeque, a wedding reception and a court arraignment — these are possible interpretations of the setting of "Fat Ham," the Huntington Theatre Company's new production of the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama.
"It's like a crazy pastiche of events, but it's all couched within the conceit of Hamlet," director Stevie Walker-Webb told Boston Public Radio on Wednesday. "It's a soap opera about 'Hamlet' that's set in a barbecue in a backyard."
The backyard was created by scenic designer Luciana Stecconi. Walker-Webb said the setting "really invites the audience to feel like they're siting at the table eating some ribs."
He said the playwright of "Fat Ham," James Ijames, created an ode to Shakespeare's original play that also explores an American nuclear family. And it's a written for a modern audience.
"When you watch [Shakespeare] sometimes it bores you to ... tears," he said. James' version, however, is just one act full of humor and fun, clocking in at only 90 minutes.
The central question of the play, Walker-Webb explained, is "what if we decided to center pleasure and self-actualization over harm?"
This reframing of Hamlet that features Black and LGBTQ+ voices drew actor Marshall W. Mabry IV, who plays the Hamlet-inspired role of Juicy, to the production. Mabry started their acting career at the Youth Ensemble of Atlanta.
"It was this beautiful place where they chose to sponsor and really care for our voices as young black artists and encourage us to write, and encourage us to perform and to embrace the fullness of who we are," Mabry said.
Embracing this fullness helped during their "Fat Ham" audition.
"The way that Marshall handled Shakespearean text is just really special," Walker-Webb said. He said it's important for actors to focus on the feelings of characters when delivering Shakespeare's poetic lines. "When Marshall came in during their audition, they just they sang that language from a place of heart muscle and not smart muscle."
And "Fat Ham" makes room for singing, too. One memorable karaoke scene includes Mabry singing Radiohead's "Creep," which they performed in the BPR studio.
"If you're a little weird in this world, I feel like you've heard this song. You maybe cried to the song a little bit," Mabry said.
"Fat Ham" runs through Oct. 29 at Wimberly Theatre in the BCA’s Calderwood Pavilion.