The Hot Wing King: A Grand Prize in Poor Pacing

4 min read

Lily McMahon ’24

Contributing Writer

I was expecting a modest audience at Hartford Stage’s “The Hot Wing King” given that it was only the second preview (which means it was the second performance with a public audience and before the official opening. In previews, the show is still subject to change, although those changes are generally directorial and usually slight). However, walking into the theater I was impressed by the size of the crowd. The Hartford Stage shows that I have seen previously were poorly attended, and the crowd skewed towards white senior citizens. This larger and more diverse audience instantly made me hopeful for the energy of the show. The liveliness drove the show throughout, with audience members serving as an active agent, often expressing their feelings directly. Audience participation when a character did something controversial helped make the play an incredibly engaging experience. At its center, The Hot Wing King” upholds themes of community, inclusion and home, and I was pleased to see the community reflected within the audience.

“The Hot Wing King” is written by Katori Hall, an award-winning playwright and television creator from Memphis, Tennessee. Premiering at the off-Broadway Signature Theater in 2020, Hall won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2021 for the piece and later directed the regional premiere of the work at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. That production featured Bjorn DuPaty as Cordell and Calvin M. Thompson as Dwayne, who would later reprise their roles in Hartford Stage’s production. This is the cast’s debut at Hartford Stage, the remaining cast including: Israel Erron Ford (Isom), Marcus Gladney Jr. (Everett “EJ”), Postell Pringle (Big Charles) and Alphonso Walker Jr. (TJ).

Hartford Stage handles the challenge of presenting this new work with clear determination. The play is a vibrant story of a group of friends preparing for a “Hot Wang Festival.” Cordell’s intensity and determination to win this festival coupled with Dwayne’s nephew arriving at their door leads to a lively weekend. At its core, “it was important to Hall that the play – groundbreaking for its joyful portrayal of gay Black men – should be less about their sexuality and more ‘about them being human,’ messing up but also loving and supporting each other” (Hartford Stage). This representation is the thematic center that unquestionably drives the play.

At a runtime of nearly two and a half hours, the stagnant nature of the setting caused the play to drag. The plot spent much of its time in the conflicts and climax, with several arguments between multiple combinations of people in the first act. The resolution in comparison felt like an afterthought and emotionally weak. This is where the themes of community fall incredibly short. Especially considering the play does attempt to have a clear resolution, there is dissonance between the ending and where the characters are emotionally. I did not leave the theater feeling like the resolution would last, given what the story showed.

Despite its shortcomings, “The Hot Wing King” demonstrated the importance of works of theater that promote positive representation and community. The cast and audience were filled with energy. The constant movement of Christopher D. Betts’ direction further exemplified this, with characters frequently entering and exiting the stage, and multiple conversations and scenes occurring simultaneously. The heart and humor of the piece are present throughout all creative aspects of the play, leading to an enjoyable viewing experience.

“The Hot Wing King” is running at Hartford Stage through March 24, 2024. Tickets can be purchased online https:// www.hartfordstage.org/ the-hot-wing-king or at the box office. Make sure to check out Hartford Stage’s student discount that provides $20 tickets.

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