Marcel Spears as Juicy in the Geffen Playhouse production of “Fat Ham.” (Courtesy photo)

“Fat Ham” is a Pulitzer Prize winning stage play written by James Ijames, and it is a contemporary adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It stars Marcel Spears, of the television sitcom “The Neighborhood,” in the role of Juicy.

“Fat Ham” is currently running at the Geffen Playhouse through May 5.

Spears is a New Orleans, Louisiana native and survivor of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. He says that although Katrina was a difficult crossroad in his life, it will never take anything away from the rich art and culture in New Orleans that influenced him as an artist.

“In a city like that, in a community like that, it is very supportive,” said Spears. “They really nurture those gifts, and I appreciate that greatly.”

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Spears says he was initially interested in becoming an animal scientist and worked at the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center and Audubon Zoo. He also says he did an internship with the Tulane University Natural Science Center.

“Then Hurricane Katrina happened, and it pushed me out of my city.  So, I didn’t have access to those things anymore, and when I got to Texas, one of the only things that felt like home and that felt familiar and felt like a welcoming space for me was the arts,” said Spears.

Because of the devastation left by Katrina, many families relocated from New Orleans to surrounding cities and states. Spears says his was one of them.

“It was a really confusing time because you don’t know where to go when your house gets pushed off its foundation, and you can’t go back home,” said Spears. “Luckily, my family was able to evacuate.”

Spears is probably best known for his role as Marty on the sitcom “The Neighborhood,” which tells the tale of a midwestern Caucasian family who moves to a predominately African American Pasadena, California neighborhood.

He was previously on the short-lived ABC sitcom “The Mayor.”

Spears calls “The Neighborhood” an incredible boost to his career, and that the themes of overcoming fears surrounding gentrification were what resonated with him about the show.

“I think even my city of New Orleans is trying to find its way through it [gentrification] now,” said Spears. “It is really difficult because investors buy up properties, and when it comes to the political side of that, it’s really difficult to navigate because everybody has their own ideas of what the path forward is and what the future of New Orleans is supposed to look like.”

He continued, “When you talk about it on the community level, I see my community, my hometown, I see New Orleans embracing people coming in. I hope like the show [The Neighborhood] … we can bridge over those differences and into something beautiful.”

He says “The Neighborhood” is less about gentrification and more about the white family being fully invested into their new neighborhood.

Marcel Spears as Marty in “The Neighborhood.” (Courtesy photo)

Spears says his character, Marty, has evolved over the past six seasons from being a stereotypical nerd with all the tropes that come along with that to becoming a responsible adult. Spears says much of that is due to Marty becoming an unwed father, which is a chapter taken from Spears’ own life.

“He [Marty] wants to mirror the relationship he sees his parents have… he wants so badly to find the love of his life he can be with for 25 years… and start a family,” said Spears.

He says, going into the new season, Marty had a sexual relationship with a co-worker, she gets pregnant, and now they navigate the responsibility of co-parenting.

“To be honest, it was obviously pulled directly from my real life in some ways,” said Spears.

“As I was in the hospital with my girlfriend giving birth the writers were like, ‘This is a great storyline.  Hey, Marcel, do you mind if we pluck some pieces of this?’ I was like, ‘Sure man.’ I had all the experience, so I did a little method acting.”

Like Marty in “The Neighborhood,” Spears’ character Juicy in “Fat Ham” is also having a coming-of-age moment. In the original Shakespearean work, Hamlet is addressed by his dead father’s ghost to avenge his murder at a wedding banquet.

In “Fat Ham,” Juicy, the Hamlet character, is a young queer Black man whose father’s ghost demands Juicy avenge his death at a family cookout. Spears says this interpretation elevates the original work to this beautiful Black and gay experience.

While studying to be an actor, he didn’t see many Black performers in the Shakespearean space, which made him feel unwelcomed.

“I went to Columbia [University] and got my formal classical theatre training. We did all the Shakespeare plays, all the tragedies. I’m very familiar with them,” said Spears. “In the beginning, I never felt fully connected to it because I didn’t often see people like me doing it.”

He says one of his teachers at Columbia helped him to develop a love for Shakespeare by telling him to focus on the familiar and human themes explored in Shakespeare’s plays.

However, when it came to “Hamlet,” Spears says it was always a play he wanted to delve into, but he never had the chance to do it.

“So, when I got the audition for ‘Fat Ham,’ which is a kind of ‘Hamlet’… It has the same DNA, but it’s a little bit removed from Hamlet. When I got the opportunity to do it, I told my agent, ‘Yeah man, if we can get in there and do it, let’s do it,”’ said Spears.

For more information on the Geffen Playhouse presentation of the stage play “Fat Ham,” visit