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The Hot Wing King

A "Boys in the Band"-style scenario concerning four Memphis black gay men who are readying for a cooking competition with comedy and drama converging.

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The cast of Katori Hall’s “The Hot Wing King” at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

“Spicy. Cajun. Alfredo. With Bourbon Infused. Crumbled. Bacon” is the hoped-for path to victory for the pivotal Memphis cooking competition in award-winning playwright Katori Halls uplifting The Hot Wing King, where comedy and drama deftly converge. Strained relationships, personal despair and camaraderie among gay and straight black men are all dramatized in this rewarding contemporary work that has echoes of the wit and pathos of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band.

Cordell is an altruistic overworked hotel manager. His partner Dwayne is an  unemployed former FedEx manager who relocated from St. Louis, leaving behind a wife and two grown children. They met five years ago at Big Charles’ barbershop. Big Charles is at their house with his partner Isom to assist with the preparations for the next day’s big chicken wing contest. Dwyane has previously won runner-up citations and hopes to win the grand prize with his new recipe. Also involved are Cordell’s troubled 16-year-old nephew EJ, and EJ’s widowed larcenous father TJ.

Cecil Blutcher and Toussaint Jeanlouis in a scene from Katori Hall’s “The Hot Wing King” at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

Ms. Hall tenderly delineates each of these humane characters with perfection. Hall’s gorgeous dialogue is a compendium of punchy lingo, colloquialisms and everyday realism. Her command of structure is impeccable as the events unfold with force, suspense and insight over two grandly performed acts.

Toussaint Jeanlouis as Cordell and Korey Jackson as Dwayne both offer compelling, charming and complex characterizations. The palpable romantic and personal chemistry between Mr. Jeanlouis and Mr. Jackson is a great asset. The physically imposing Nicco Annan’s Big Charles is a delightful combination of bluster, wisdom and candor. As the shade-throwing screaming queen Isom, the animated Sheldon Best is mostly hilarious, sometimes poignant and always fascinating. Mr. Best gets tremendous comic mileage out of stirring a pot of hot sauce while seasoning it. Beautifully delivering a powerful speech about the psychological aftereffects of witnessing his mentally unstable mother shot to death by the police, is a highlight of youthful Cecil Blutcher’s touching and searing performance as EJ. The quietly charismatic Eric B. Robinson Jr. creates a marvelous portrait of a loveable rogue as the downtrodden TJ.

Nicco Annan, Korey Jackson and Toussaint Jeanlouis in a scene from Katori Hall’s “The Hot Wing King” at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

Director Steve H. Broadnax III’s sharp staging contains some neat dance and fight bits that all realize Hall’s vision. Scenic designer Michael Carnahan’s artfully framed two-level ordinary house set depicts various rooms and most crucially the kitchen, as well as the nearby patio, all with visual achievement. Alan C. Edwards’ lighting design adroitly varies according to the moods and actions. Sound designers Luqman Brown and Robert Kaplowitz’s sparkling efforts render the musical interludes and effects with flair. From Isom’s Gucci bag to the crimson cooking team shirts, costume designer Emilio Sosa injects stylish flourishes amidst the individualized athleticwear and street clothes.

The Hot Wing King’s accomplished depth continues to substantiate Hall’s preeminence as a leading playwright.

The Hot Wing King (through March 11, 2020)

Signature Theatre

The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-244-7529 or visit http://www.signaturetheatre.org

Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (726 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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