Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Hot Wing King
Studio Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin

Also see Susan's reviews of The Music Man, Red Velvet and To Kill a Mockingbird

Derrick Sanders III, Michael Kevin Darnall,
Bjorn DuPaty, Brian Marable, and Blake Morris

Photo by Jati Lindsay
Studio Theatre in Washington is celebrating the launch of its newest space, the flexible Victor Shargai Theatre, with a rich and robust production of The Hot Wing King. Food metaphors are appropriate for Katori Hall's play, which received the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, since it focuses on six men building and deepening friendships as they prepare for the annual Hot Wing Festival in Memphis, Tennessee.

Director Steve H. Broadnax III, who also directed the world premiere of the play in New York City (with a different cast), has established a close rapport with not only the playwright but also his six totally committed actors. They work together smoothly and, even when events onstage seem a bit over-the-top, their performances keep everything real.

Cordell (Brian Marable), leader of the New Wing Order team, is determined to win this year's hot wing contest, going on and on about fine-tuning the ingredients in the marinade and the role of experimentation in the seasoning process. (His latest brainstorm is "Cajun Alfredo wings with bourbon-infused crumbled bacon.") Joining him are his partner Dwayne (Blake Morris); barber Big Charles (Bjorn DuPaty), in whose shop Cordell and Dwayne met; and Big Charles' partner Isom (Michael Kevin Darnall), a young New Orleans transplant with a serious attitude and hair dyed aqua. Dwayne's shifty brother TJ (JaBen Early) and his son Everett, or EJ (Derrick Sanders III), also show up during the long night and early morning of hot wing preparation.

Hall's slice-of-life approach examines several issues facing Black gay men. Cordell was living in St. Louis with a wife and two children when he met Dwayne during a work trip to Memphis and finally felt comfortable coming out. Now he dreams about starting his own wing restaurant, which likely won't happen unless he wins the contest.

Meanwhile, as Cordell tries to marshal the troops to get the wing process going (the choreographed prep routine is delightful), Big Charles would rather watch a basketball game. Everett wants to live with Dwayne and Cornell rather than his feckless father; he's coping with family trauma and irresponsibility, while Isom keeps trying to get attention.

The cast has no weak links. Marable and Morris have created the easy, slightly prickly rapport between people determined to build a life together while navigating the obstacles they face; Darnall steals focus whenever he's onstage; DuPaty serves as the grounding presence of the group; Early is charming enough to let people overlook some of his more toxic qualities; and Sanders is both sweet and moving as a young man forced to grow up too soon.

Michael Carnahan's modular scenic design depicts Dwayne and Cornell's house in thorough detail, from the rainbow-hued row of storage jars on a kitchen shelf and the elaborate workspace in the middle of the kitchen, to the print on the guest bedroom wall, to the upright piano in the living room. Ivania Stack's costume design visually frames the personality of each man, ranging between hoops fanatic Big Charles' Memphis Grizzlies jersey and fashionable Isom's artfully cropped shirt and distressed jeans. In addition to Alan C. Edwards' lighting design and Curtis Craig's sound design, props designer Amy Kellett has gathered a dizzying amount of scenic detail, from cookbooks to photos and notes posted on the refrigerator.

The Hot Wing King runs through July 31, 2022, in the Victor Shargai Theatre at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-332-3300 or visit

By Katori Hall
Directed by Steve H. Broadnax III

Cordell: Brian Marable
Dwayne: Blake Morris
Isom: Michael Kevin Darnall
Big Charles: Bjorn DuPaty
Everett "EJ": Derrick Sanders III
TJ: JaBen Early