Nicco Annan, Toussaint Jeanlouis, Korey Jackson, Sheldon Best,
Photos by Monique
Hot Wing King
by Julia Polinsky
Hall sets The Hot Wing King in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a
Memphis kitchen on the eve of a big Hot Wing competition. The play pushes all
kinds of buttons and does it well. Humor, anger, resentment, ambition, family,
love, commitment: it’s all there, alternating between hilarious and searing.
group of gay African-American men have formed a team to win the crown of Hot
Wing King, spurred by the ambition of Cordell (a smashing performance from Toussaint
Jeanlouis). He’s a born cook, recently left his life in St. Louis (and his wife
and two kids) to follow his heart – he moved to Memphis to live with Dwayne
(Korey Jackson), a hyper-responsible hotel manager and workaholic.
the cooking progresses, their friends Big Charles (Nicco Annan) and his
flamboyant friend/one-night stand Isom (Sheldon Best – another knockout
performance) are assigned tasks to help prepare the wings. Or hinder, depending
on attention span, the state of the basketball game on TV, discussion of the
team name (“The New Wing Order”) and team shirt, singing an homage to Luther
Vandross, or whatever distraction sabotages The Sauce.
Blutcher, Korey Jackson
those distractions: TJ (Eric B. Robinson, Jr.), a father looking for his
teenage son, EJ (Cecil Blutcher) -- EJ sometimes comes for shelter to Dwayne
and Cordell’s home, but he’s not there now. Dwayne’s sister was the boy’s
mother; he feels deeply responsible for the way his sister died, and family is
family. The last time EJ visited, money went missing from Dwayne’s wallet, and
Cordell does not want the boy there -- but it’s not really his house and
whether or not he has a say in the decision is a very sore spot. No sooner does
TJ leave, then EJ arrives with his clothes in two garbage bags and big plans to
move in with his gay uncles.
crash and burn all the way around. Lots of huge issues between Cordell and
Dwayne derail the Hot Wing train, and as their relationship fractures, a goodly
bit of soul gets laid bare. EJ disappears; TJ comes back to find him; the job
of stirring the sauce goes off the rails, and thanks to Isom’s enthusiastic and
unauthorized addition of a whole jar of ground Pili-Pili peppers, the wings are
inedibly hot, dooming The New Wing Order to failure.
the end, all resolves. Love is love; family is family; hot wings are life. Too
much heat in anything can be managed, whether it’s families, friendships,
relationships, or wing sauce.
Annan, Korey Jackson, Toussaint Jeanlouis
Katori Hall has
written The Hot Wing King in a rapid-fire, delicious-sounding
vernacular, which helps the play feel completely natural, as if you were
sitting in the room with them all. She knows how to make you care as deeply
about these men as Cordell cares about his wings. Which is particularly
interesting, because the basic story is pretty well-worn.
Lacking the milieu of
gay African-American men, The Hot Wing King could be almost tedious – yawn,
again? The wayward teenage son looking for redemption? The couple that’s
uncomfortable with one person’s sacrifice and the other’s controlling behavior?
The friends, one warmhearted and wise, the other giddy and silly? Sorry, but
what’s new? Been there, done that; let’s move on. But Hall’s vivid
characterizations and superb language, coupled with outstanding performances
and terrific direction from Steve H. Broadnax III, makes The Hot Wing King
feel fresh and new. Not to mention, the knockout scenic design (Michael
Carnahan) and costumes that effortlessly create character (Emilio Sosa) make it
all work. Really well. Really, really well.
Those tears in your eyes at The Hot Wing King? They might be from
the heat of some Suicide Flats, or from the heart of this tale of ambition,
love, family, and Pili-Pili powder.
The Hot Wing King
Griffin At the Signature Theater
West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 7:30 pm; Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, 2pm
time: 2:20, with one intermission
Tickets: (212) 244-7529