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  • Angela Allyn

A Delicious Romp Marinated in Love at Writers Theatre



Katori Hall’s 2020 Pulitzer Prize winning play The Hot Wing King is about men and love, in a rich and funny story about what it means to belong and what it means to radically accept the people you are attached to. It is also about how people speak to each other and maintain cultural connections through the making of food. It is also a show that will send you off to your favorite wing purveyor– they should sell them in the lobby because the dialogue is mouth watering and creates a craving for those wings!  


Cordell (Breon Arzell) has left his wife and kids to move cross country to be with Dwayne (Jos N. Banks), a highly successful hotel manager in Memphis. Currently unemployed and dreaming up and  perfecting wing recipes, Cordell has gathered his friends: the flamboyant Isom (Joseph Anthony Byrd) and the larger than life Big Charles (THEE Ricky Harris) to prepare for the annual hot wing cook off.  Dwayne’s brother in law TJ (Kevin Tre’von Patterson) stops by, leaving a wad of cash for his teenage son EJ (Jabari Khaliq),  due to arrive soon. This is a group with complex interrelationships: Cordell struggles with being out, but being rejected by his kids.  He is also unsure of the power dynamic in his relationship with Dwayne who is the provider. TJ and EJ have an uncomfortable bond. Isom and Big Charles have a kind of can't live with you or without you relationship. In short, they are a family. 


I kept feeling like something awful was going to happen: EJ, out all night would be shot, there would be some horrible altercation between Dwayne and TJ, and I came to realize that my inherent racism had me expecting tropes–tragic  black family experiences.  This show shatters expectations: it is funny, loving, exuberant, moving and complex.  The straight men respect and love the gay men, as family does.  The gay men are open and vulnerable to each other and very romantic. The show has a happy ending.  The biggest disaster in the show happens when one of the self proclaimed New Wing Order over seasons the wings with painful results,  sending us all down the rabbit hole of scoville units as a way of measuring hotness.


The show revels in world building: prosperous emotional African American men who care for their families–TJ is Willy Loman-esque, the cast speaks in a Memphis patois, the men do their best talking and posturing out back with a basketball.  Someone keeps checking the game score. Lauren M Nichols creates a set that perfectly telegraphs the class and comfort of this family. Costume designer Yvonne Miranda speaks volumes with the Versace cashmere TJ has to borrow and may not return, as well as Isom’s over the top attire (I want those boots!) 


Director Lili-Anne Brown has helmed a smart true ensemble with exceptional range that brings depth and feeling to the entertainment of this story.


I did not expect to go to the rarified confines of Glencoe to get a multifaceted and truly beautiful comedy about the southern African American male experience, but I am grateful I went.  This show is universal in that it speaks to what it is to love, and to have to work at that love, even when its very uncomfortable. It's a story where everyone gives something up, lets go of something they are holding on to, and possibly loses something they wanted, but it all comes out right in the end.  These men accept each other in an authentic way. Its the feel good hit of the summer!


The Hot Wing King is playing Wednesdays through Sundays at The Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe, IL through July 21, 2024.   For tickets and information go to  https://www.writerstheatre.org/the-hot-wing-king



Photo by Michael Brosilow

For more reviews go to https://www.theatreinchicago.com

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