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Hot Wing King is a Spicy and Tender Theatrical Experience

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BmoreArt’s Picks: April 23-29

With The Hot Wing King, Baltimore Center Stage serves up a lively spread of rapid-fire one-liners, spicy moves, and tender camaraderie that serves as an entree to a discussion of contemporary Black manhood. 

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Katori Hall brings four gay Black men together at Dwayne’s house for the weekend to prepare chicken wings for the annual “Hot Wang Festival” in Memphis, Tennessee. Dwayne (Calvin M. Thompson) is conventionally employed and attired. Cordell (Bjorn DuPaty), his lover, has just moved in. They are joined by the campy Isom (Israel Erron Ford), and Big Charles (Postell Pringle), whose chief interest seems to be the Grizzlies’ basketball season.

Cordell is driven to concoct the ideal wing sauce. Under his exacting supervision, the other three–”The New Wing Order”–chop, blend and stir while keeping up a hilarious stream of put-downs, dance steps, and song bits. Their performance of Luther Vandross’s “Never Too Much” is a showstopper.

 

Bjorn DuPaty as Cordell and Israel Erron Ford as Isom. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Israel Erron Ford as Isom, Postell Pringle as Big Charles, Bjorn DuPaty as Cordell, and Calvin M. Thompson as Dwayne. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

All the fun, however, can’t quite hide the characters’ anxieties and resentments. Cordell devotes himself to his chicken recipes because the hobby lets him overlook his dependence on Dwayne and his guilt for having left his wife and sons. Dwayne blames himself for his sister’s death in police custody. Isom, having spent one night with Big Charles, is hurt because he can’t seem to keep Charles’ interest. 

These issues come out when the teen-aged son of Dwayne’s late sister, Everett (Marcus Gladney, Jr.), shows up looking for a place for the night. Dwayne is ready to take Everett in and raise him, a prospect that Cordell regards as a threat. Everett’s shady father, TJ (Jude Tibeau), shows up, like Pap in Huckleberry Finn, to claim Everett on the doubtful ground that living on the streets he’ll become more of a man than he will in his uncle’s household.

In the end, reconciliation is found. Dwayne and Cordell, after a good deal of lofty dialogue, realize that they belong together, and TJ lets Everett stay with them. In the driveway, Big Charles begins teaching Isom to shoot baskets. Cordell’s wing sauce triumphs in spite of its having been over-spiced by Isom. Cordell and the crew win a special trophy because Everett is the only person who can eat more than one of his wings. Isom proudly reports that “a long line of white boys” who challenged EJ ended up “looking like pink lobsters.”

 

Bjorn DuPaty as Cordell and Calvin M. Thompson as Dwayne. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Postell Pringle as Big Charles and Israel Erron Ford as Isom. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The cast members play their roles with energy and expert timing under the skillful direction of Christopher C. Betts. Emmie Finckel designed the sleek set. At times Hall’s script crowds out character development in favor of comedic moments where characters are engaging but not allowed enough space for nuance. The really interesting question the play raises about the future and diversity of Black masculinity, explored individually and as a group in urgent discussions about “manhood,” does not reach a clear resolution but remains a puzzle for the audience to solve afterwards.

Hot Wing King runs through April 28th at Baltimore Center Stage.

Calvin M. Thompson as Dwayne, Marcus Gladney Jr. as Everett, and Postell Pringle as Big Charles. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Photos courtesy of Baltimore Center Stage.

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