Play 'The Hot Wing King' sheds light on masculinity, queerness and Black Boy Joy at the Alliance Theatre
Playwright Katori Hall won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “The Hot Wing King.” It’s on stage through March 5 at the Alliance Theatre, and she’s also directing the production.
She joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about her show that she considers a love letter to her brother and his partner.
Story elements inspired by her real-life brother’s relationship:
“I’ve really been blessed to have been a witness to their love, but also to their struggle as a couple, but also as individuals,” said Hall. “My brother, his name is Wayne, and so the character of Dwayne definitely takes a lot of his skin, his memories, his mistakes, and yet of course there is artistic license. And his partner, real name Charles, is actually kind of split up over a couple of characters in the play. I have felt very blessed that my brother and his partner, these two Black gay men living in the South, have been so fiercely transparent with me about everything that they’ve gone through, and so it’s been truly, truly an amazing experience to take their life and figure out ways in which to fictionalize it.”
A celebration of Memphis food culture:
“What’s very interesting about my brother and his partner is that they actually deal in barbecue. Charles is actually the founder and owner of an amazing Memphis barbecue spot called One and Only. However, I like hot wings… It’s just me putting in what I love, what I want to see on stage, and I’m just such a huge fan of hot wings,” Hall admitted. “I wish people knew a little bit more about the amazing hot wing spots that Memphis has.”
“I think the [Hot Wing] Fest, this specific festival, it’s a gathering point. All these people from all across, not only Memphis but all across the South, they come here to this amazing city to articulate their version of the culinary arts,” said Hall. “I think the hot wing, it’s a seemingly kind of basic, almost fast-food-esque piece of food, and yet I think the creativity and the just ingenuity that people have when it comes to creating new flavors and bringing them to the tongues of people who come to the festival, I just think it’s a reflection of just how there’s so much creativity that still pulses through Memphis, whether it’s the music or the art. It’s just another way that we show up and we show out when it comes to our talent.”
Shedding a broad spectrum of light on what it means to be male:
“Like all these flavors that we’re presenting in regards to the hot wings, we’re presenting this really wide-ranging spectrum when it comes to masculinity, Black masculinity, and queerness,” said Hall. “Oftentimes, men who present as super-masculine or hyper-masculine, oftentimes they don’t get the consideration that they’re even queer. And when those two identities occur in one body, it can be oftentimes discombobulating to people because oftentimes we think of gayness as a more feminine thing. But this play presents literally every different permutation of what being Black and queer and male can present as. In addition, we have characters that are cishet, to a father and son, and so to see how they battle with these, I would say, archaic notions of masculinity and push past it in order to be present and be loving in the midst of this family.”
The still-radical impact of joyful stories of Black life:
I believe that Black joy is revolutionary because of all of the trauma, because of the constant imagery of dehumanization that we have to deal with, both as Black men and women. I just felt that I wanted to hold space for our laughter,” Hall reflected. “Unfortunately, when it comes to people talking about Black people, it’s all oftentimes about the struggle… I think the struggle still exists even inside of joy, and yet I wanted to leave this tattoo on the minds and hearts of audiences of Black joy. Black joy is so much more powerful than Black pain.”
“The Hot Wing King” is on stage at the Alliance Theatre through March 5. Tickets and more information are available at www.alliancetheatre.org/production/2022-23/the-hot-wing-king.