Katori Hall’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Hot Wing King, is having its regional premiere at Alliance Theatre’s Coca-Cola Stage in Atlanta from February 10 to March 5.
The kitchen sink comedy chronicles a Black gay couple in Memphis juggling family conflict, relationship drama and friendship the evening before a hot wing competition. Making her directorial debut since it was published in 2019, the playwright’s story is loosely based on her gay older brother’s journey towards self-acceptance and finding love in the Dirty South. The show additionally explores themes like fatherhood, police brutality and masculinity.
“I have been a witness to his struggles, his coming out and his falling in love with his partner, so I really wanted to give that gift to other people to show that it can happen,” the P-Valley creator and showrunner said. “That journey was a gift to me.”
The Hot Wing King originally premiered off-Broadway at Signature Theatre on Feb. 11, 2020. Performances abruptly ended on Mar. 15, 2020, because of the Coronavirus pandemic shutting theaters down indefinitely.
Upset by her passion coming to a halt, Hall planned to use her original work as a vehicle to invite and welcome more Black and brown audiences into a space that historically struggled with outreach to various racial and ethnic communities. Bringing The Hot Wing King to Atlanta with an all-Black male cast gives the Memphis-born writer hope that some of those ideas can be dusted off and revisited as part of ongoing efforts to help eliminate the racism and sexism that exists in American theatre.
“It was really disappointing,” Hall, 41, said. “We set aside a blackout night, where it was only gonna be Black folks in the theater to watch the play. We, unfortunately, didn’t get to have that opportunity, but I really wanted to see us on stage.”
“I have been yearning to have this play seen by an audience that’s way more diverse,” she added. “I didn’t get that opportunity in New York. This play that’s for us by us is going to be seen and embraced by us, so that’s what I’m most excited about.”
It was The Hot Wing King’s original director, Steve H. Broadnax III, who convinced Hall to write the play. Also a same-gender-loving Black man, he helped the Ivy League-educated dramatist workshop the story while she was both completing her playwriting residency with Signature Theatre and developing the pilot season of P-Valley. The two-time Tony Award nominee still considers herself Broadnax’s understudy while seated in the director’s chair at Alliance Theatre.
“I have to figure out ways to make intimacy epic, in which gestures of love and tenderness have to be amplified,” the Olivier Award recipient said. “I’m very blessed and lucky that I got the opportunity to see another director put it up in another space.”
Actor Nicco Annan, who originated the part of P-Valley’s witty, gender-bending strip club owner Uncle Clifford for both stage and screen, is also reclaiming his role in The Hot Wing King as Big Charles, a barber who’s more interested in watching sports than preparing chicken wings. Having the Detroit-born thespian on-hand for her projects who’s coming into his own as a notable actor reassures that she has a creative soulmate who understands her vision.
“I’m so blessed that I have a muse and a metronome,” Hall said, calling Annon “her brother, best friend and part of her creative tribe.” “It’s so rare that writers can find actors who can completely trust them and dream together. We’re constantly talking to each other about the stories we’re telling together. I trust him with my life.”
“He is an icon now,” she continued. “He is going down in the history books. I’m over the moon that I was able to create that space for him so that people could see how amazing of an actor he is.”
P-Valley is currently nominated for six NAACP Image Awards and a GLAAD Media Award. The second season’s storylines that reflected how the pandemic largely affected Black people in small communities were the result of Hall channeling her frustrations from her hiatus from the theater.
The Starz series’ graphic imagery and trending homoerotic love story have ruffled feathers across the Twitterverse despite its critical praise for being one of the most thought-provoking shows on television in recent years. Hall welcomes all of the social media conversations and water cooler talk.
“I had this resentment that I poured into my art,” the mother of three said. “It’s so crazy to see the impact of your work and it’s actually shaping and changing culture. I’m glad people are embracing it and having difficult conversations in places and spaces where they haven’t been able to have before.”
Hall’s past Broadway productions, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and The Mountaintop, have several performances across Atlanta during The Hot Wing King’s run. P-Valley is heading into its third season: extending Hall’s creative output for creating more complex, authentic images of Black life.
Setting her sights on crafting more period pieces, Hall appreciates being able to juggle numerous projects as a Black woman creative. Earning the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2021, or what she calls “a crown,” while the theater was closed only motivated Hall to remain true to her voice and original creative goals.
“I’ve always dreamed that I would be equally as powerful, prolific and potent in theater as I was in TV and film,” Hall said. “In the theater space, to have both a musical on a national tour and a play running at the same time just does not happen.”
“I am telling stories about my people with love, nuance and understanding that creates empathy,” Hall added. “I’m going to pour every story that I have inside of my brain out in some way. It’s my responsibility to continue to bring up other Black female writers. I truly bust my ass to make sure all of us are represented on the American stage. That mission is my fuel and keeps my passion stoked.”