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The Hot Wing King at Studio Theatre

A moving night in the new Victor Shargai Theatre.

The Hot Wing King written by Katori Hall and directed by  Steve H. Broadnax III is now at the Studio Theatre through July 31st.   

This Pulitzer Prize-winning story is about an African American gay couple and their friends gunning for glory in the annual Memphis Hot Wing Festival.  Broadnax, who directed the premiere in New York, returned to direct Studio’s production. 

According to the press release from the theatre “Hall has called the play “personal and political” in its portrayal of Black gay men living in the South. The production received praise as “a funny, deeply felt consideration of Black masculinity and how it is perceived, filtered through the experiences of a loving gay couple”.  The scene is August in Memphis and it’s time to crown the new ‘Hot Wang King’. 

The Hot Wing King
Photo by JATI Lindsay

Along with his best friends and boyfriend Dwayne (Blake Morris), who serve as his fry crew, Cordell (Brian Marable) has a feeling that this is his year. When the play opens, they are joined in the kitchen by their other friends, Isom (Michael Kevin Darnall) and Big Charles (Bjorn DuPaty). Then a family emergency throws Dwayne’s nephew, Everett (Derrick Sanders III) into the house joining them on prep night, and Isom starts messing with the seasoning, and suddenly Cordell’s future is in danger of going up in flames.

This play is at times funny and times very moving. There are universal truths here about gay life and family. It seemed, from the bursts of laughter, some in the audience got a little more of the initial humor. I just looked at it from the perspective of an older white gay man and thought, Black or White, I might not enjoy a party with these loud guys. But then realized quickly I know a host of friends who would. This was my personal reaction for most of the first act until about the last ten minutes, when suddenly it all came into focus for me.

Unfortunately, for some in the audience it didn’t, and there were a few empty seats of those who didn’t return for the second act. I would tell them they missed what the play is really about and some great emotionally gripping acting by the entire cast. That includes TJ (JaBen Early) who plays Everett’s father. 

I am not sure how that can be changed and hopefully people who read this before they go will understand they should stay for the entire show for a really wonderful experience in the theater. 

The Hot Wing King at Studio Theatre
Photo by Studio Theatre

This is the first show in the new Victor Shargai Theatre at Studio. It will be interesting as they bring other shows in how they use the ability to move the seating, stage, and lighting around. For this show it is stadium seating all facing the stage along the wall. 

The creative team is good, especially costume designer Ivania Stack. I thought the lighting by Alan C. Edwards was great much of the time.  Interestingly what was supposed to be a second-floor bedroom was lit most of the time. The set design by Michael Carnahan was interesting with the kitchen, living room, bedroom and outdoors all visible, all the time. I think part of this was the production team getting use to this new theater and both its benefits and limitations. 

All-in-all by the end of the second act you will have been part of a moving night in the theater. Again, The Hot Wing King is at Studio until July 31st. Get your tickets today.