‘Hot Wing King’ at Baltimore Center Stage brings the comedic hot sauce

This funny dramedy tackles love, trauma, prejudice, and the Black LGBTQIA+ experience.

This dramedy has a hot-wing eating contest, bickering gay couples, and a performance of Luther Vandross’ “A Thousand Kisses.” What’s not to love? Directed by Christopher D. Bett and written by Katori Hall (who created the STARZ TV show P-Valley), The Hot Wing King is a well-acted show that explores the Black LGBTQIA+ experience.

The yearly Hot Wang Festival takes place in Memphis, Tennessee. Cook extraordinaire Cordell Crutchfield’s goal is to win the coveted title of Wing King. To do so, he relies on The New Wing Order: his partner Dwayne and his friends Isom and Big Charles. Things get dicey when Cordell discovers that he must juggle training for the events with helping to care for Dwayne’s little nephew EJ, who has moved in following a family tragedy.

Bjorn DuPaty as Cordell and Israel Erron Ford as Isom in ‘The Hot Wing King.’ Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

This 2021 Pulitzer Prize-winning show had a sitcom feel through much of it, but on that level, it was a good one. A lot of the jokes involved Scoville units, ugly shirts, and milk — lots of milk.

Cordell was a man trying to put his life back together. He left his wife for another man and his sons and ex-wife hated him for it. Bjorn Dupaty played Cordell within a nuanced character arc, which swung between happy, sad, and enraged.

Calvin M. Thompson played Dwayne, the man Cordell left his family and moved to Memphis for. Dwayne and Cordell’s romantic bliss was disturbed by their differing life goals. Dwayne wanted the unemployed Cordell to start a business. Often, their arguments made Dwayne seem like a condescending parent.

Marcus Gladney Jr. played EJ, aka Everett. EJ was a troubled young man who lost his mom to police brutality and had issues with his drug-dealing street-wise dad, TJ, played by Jude Tibeau. Tibeau and Gladney’s scenes sizzled when their characters clashed over whether EJ should stay in a house run by gay men — especially Uncle Dwayne. Gladney (who has appeared in Paramount+’s Mayor of Kingstown) made his scenes memorable.

TOP: Israel Erron Ford as Isom, Postell Pringle as Big Charles, Bjorn DuPaty as Cordell, and Calvin M Thompson as Dwayne; ABOVE: Marcus Gladney Jr. as Everett (‘EJ’) and Bjorn DuPaty as Cordell, in ‘The Hot Wing King.’ Photos by T. Charles Erickson.

Israel Erron Ford provided the show with much comic relief as Isom. Isom was a troublemaker with a small “t” and a lover of trap (Southern rap) music. Ford’s character was the stereotypical, flamboyant gay man often portrayed in the media. His prancing and dancing kept the audience in stitches.

LEFT: Calvin M Thompson as Dwayne and Bjorn DuPaty as Cordell; RIGHT: Postell Pringle as Big Charles and Israel Erron Ford as Isom, in ‘The Hot Wing King.’ Photos by T. Charles Erickson.

Postell Pringle played Big Charles, Isom’s boyfriend. Big Charles was a barber and sports fanatic who was instrumental in Cordell and Dwayne’s meeting.

Thompson (who has appeared in STARZ’s Power Book III: Raising Kanan) and DuPaty starred in the regional premiere of this play at Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.

Scenic Designer Emmie Finckel created a dynamic and livable set. I loved the shiny green kitchen cabinets, the mini-piano, and the half basketball court.

The most exciting thing about Designer Jahise LeBouef’s costumes was the ugly Hawaiian shirts with a hot sauce/pepper theme on them. Intimacy and Fight Coordinator Kelsey Rainwater made the kisses and hugs convey warmth and romance.

Voice and Dialect Coach Cynthia Santos DeCure did an adequate job. I didn’t detect strong Southern accents. I think her best work was helping to make the Black and gay vernacular sound Black and gay.

Betts did a great job making sure his actors picked up their cues and kept their energy up. The physical comedy was frantic and fun to watch. Betts balanced the frantic moments with quieter ones. Hot Wing King is a hot ticket you should bite into. Bring the milk.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

The Hot Wing King plays through April 28, 2024, at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets ($39–$74, with senior and student discounts available), call the box office at (410) 332-0033, or purchase them online.

Note: This production includes coarse language, use of slurs, ableist language, and references to offstage violence and death.

The Hot Wing King
By Katori Hall

Cordell: Bjorn Dupaty
Isom: Israel Erron Ford
Everett “EJ”: Marcus Gladney Jr.
Big Charles: Postell Pringle
Dwayne: Calvin M. Thompson
TJ: Jude Tibeau

Director: Christopher D. Betts
Scenic Designer: Emmie Finckel
Costume Designer: Jahise LeBouef
Sound Design: Kathy Ruvuna
Voice and Dialect Coach: Cynthia Santos DeCure
Intimacy and Fight Coordinator: Kelsey Rainwater
Lighting Designer Adam Honoré


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