Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

The Hot Wing King
Hartford Stage
Review by Fred Sokol

Bjorn DuPaty, Marcus Gladney Jr., and Erron Ford
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
The Hot Wing King, Katori Hall's Pulitzer Prize winning play, is, for much of the time, a fast-paced situation comedy and, for significantly shorter segments, an intimate piece of theatre. Running through March 24 at Hartford Stage, the show features six adept actors. Director Christopher D. Betts, who helmed Trouble in Mind at the Stage last season, lends a proactive hand as he wisely and accordingly varies the speed of the current production.

All the performers are Black, and Hall's dialogue acquaints those watching with a particular circumstance of gay, African-American men in Memphis, Tennessee. Everyone's going to help Cordell (Bjorn DuPaty), cooking up a storm, create a chicken wing entry for the Hot Wang Festival. Cordell and his partner Dwayne (Calvin M. Thompson) live in a swanky home. Scenic designer Emmie Finckel's setting is quite gorgeous as it includes a kitchen (stainless steel appliances and nifty backsplash), the kind of living room sofa that encourages snoozing, and a sweet upper-level bedroom. A free standing basketball hoop hovers outside and the characters make use of it.

Isom (Israel Erron Ford), sporting colorful hair, and Big Charles (Postell Pringle) are anything and everything but shy and they are free to banter with elevated voices during much of the early going. Cordell is loquacious as well, so each individual in the room fully talks the talk. Ford is also a skilled pianist and all join enthusiastically for song and dance with "Oh, my love" and further lyrics, comprising a definite first act highlight.

Although it would be a serious mistake to label it highly plotted, The Hot Wing King includes moments of genuine reflection. Everett (Marcus Gladney Jr.) is Dwayne's nephew who will stay upstairs at the house. TJ (Alphonso Walker Jr.) is Everett's father, not the kindest sort. Everett (also called "EJ") queries Cordell about sexuality, wanting to determine exactly when Cordell realized he he was gay, in an emotive, honest back-and-forth. That softly dramatic scene, just before intermission, rates as the evening's finest.

Cordell is sometimes more pensive than one might initially assume. He has left St. Louis, his wife, and his sons, and is moving forward as a middle-aged Black man in a handsome home since coupling with Dwayne. At present, Cordell is driven to win the contest and he is glad to have company as he prepares. Still, during quieter moments, Cordell slows himself down to contemplate where he's been and, even more deeply, what he has lost. Dwayne, who earlier appeared one dimensional, is also multi-sided.

Everyone in this ensemble is making their Hartford Stage debut and most of the actors have Broadway and/or Off-Broadway credits. The script not only allows but encourages each to shine. The disciplined cast members impressively adapt to various configurations

Christopher D. Betts's direction must be pivotal, because the play includes two genres within its overall context. It's a snappy, clamorous comedy through which ribald and rowdy humor can score points. By turns, however, the presentation is quieter and far more penetrating. The show is never somber but its tone alters to a more moderate key with accompanying restraint. The director helps the actors transition from a vociferous to a more composed manner of delivery.

Katori Hall is a gifted writer who has brought to the stage, amongst other plays, The Mountaintop, a fictionalized rendering of Martin Luther King's presence in the Lorraine Motel's room 306 the night before he was slain. Also a fine journalist, the versatile Hall is remarkably penetrating with her dramatic sequences within The Hot Wing King. Screeching, brassy comedy carries through a major portion of the two and one half hour running time of this presentation, but the even more successful lower-key exchanges are heartfelt, revelatory, and certainly enduring.

The Hot Wing King runs through March 24, 2004, at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-527-5151 or visit