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The Hot Wing King

Nicco Annan, Toussaint Jeanlouis, Korey Jackson, Sheldon Best, Cecil Blutcher 
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Photos by Monique Carboni

The Hot Wing King

†††††††††††††††††††††††††† by Julia Polinsky

Katori 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: itís all there, alternating between hilarious and searing.

A 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). Heís a born cook, recently left his life in St. Louis (and his wife and two kids) to follow his heart Ė he moved to Memphis to live with Dwayne (Korey Jackson), a hyper-responsible hotel manager and workaholic.

As the cooking progresses, their friends Big Charles (Nicco Annan) and his flamboyant friend/one-night stand Isom (Sheldon Best Ė 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 (ďThe New Wing OrderĒ) and team shirt, singing an homage to Luther Vandross, or whatever distraction sabotages The Sauce.

Cecil Blutcher, Korey Jackson

Among 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 Cordellís home, but heís not there now. Dwayneís sister was the boyís mother; he feels deeply responsible for the way his sister died, and family is family. The last time EJ visited, money went missing from Dwayneís wallet, and Cordell does not want the boy there -- but itís 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.

Things 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 Isomís 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.

In the end, all resolves. Love is love; family is family; hot wings are life. Too much heat in anything can be managed, whether itís families, friendships, relationships, or wing sauce.

Nicco 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 Ė yawn, again? The wayward teenage son looking for redemption? The couple thatís uncomfortable with one personís sacrifice and the otherís controlling behavior? The friends, one warmhearted and wise, the other giddy and silly? Sorry, but whatís new? Been there, done that; letís move on. But Hallís 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

By Katori Hall

The Griffin At the Signature Theater

480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036

Through March 22

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 7:30 pm; Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, 2pm

Running time: 2:20, with one intermission
Tickets: (212) 244-7529