Metro Weekly

Christopher D. Betts Cooks Up a Tasty “Hot Wing King”

The director, who is committed to showcasing 'Black joy,' helms a new production of the Pulitzer-winner at Baltimore Center Stage.

Hot Wing King: Calvin M.Thompson, Marcus Gladney Jr., and Postell Pringle
Hot Wing King: Calvin M.Thompson, Marcus Gladney Jr., and Postell Pringle

There are savory delights aplenty served in Katori Hall’s award-winning play The Hot Wing King, but it’s not a story about cooking or food, per se. Food brings the characters together to stir the pot of issues simmering under Hot Wangs Festival contestant Cordell, his lover Dwayne, and their extended family of friends, including Dwayne’s teenage nephew EJ.

Hall’s taut, funny work, which earned the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, still laces the cooking with insight and meaning that director Christopher D. Betts, staging a new production of The Hot Wing King at Broadway Center Stage, intends to reflect.

“The order that Cordell has in the kitchen, the way that I’ve staged [how] the kitchen functions, is very similar to the ways in which my grandmother functions in her kitchen,” Betts said over a Zoom call from Charm City. “Because it’s definitely like Cordell is cooking, and he has some assistance. And that’s definitely the way that my grandmother cooks, just like, ‘I am doing this, and you are here to support.'”

Yet that doesn’t stop somebody on Cordell’s Hot Wangs team from taking it upon himself to dash the wings recipe with unauthorized ingredients. The transgression becomes a major turning point in a drama that hashes out Cordell and Dwayne’s challenges in going from long-distance DL lovers to a homemaking couple, as well as their difficulties raising EJ, and conflicts with the boy’s petty criminal dad.

“I think there’s a lot that goes on in the intersectionality of Blackness and queerness,” says Betts, a proudly queer artist and Yale Drama grad with acclaimed productions of Dreamgirls, The Color Purple, and the musical Carrie to his credit.

“You have Black folks’ very, very horrific relationship to this country. This is a country, we are not even 100 years into having our rights. Right? Then you have all these things that impact a housing system. Marriage rates are totally going down in the Black community. There was a big wave in the ’90s of mass incarceration, and having a lot of folks who grew up in environments where there was not a father present.”

And in one way or another, those threads of history and dysfunction all reach into Cordell and Dwayne’s household. “So when you put queerness on top of all of those challenges, those are the things that [also] affect a heterosexual couple,” Betts says. “And when you couple that with queerness, the role of Christianity in the Black community, just general homophobia, whether it’s religiously related or not, to see two folks who choose to love each other in spite of all those dynamics, it’s heroic.”

Betts is committed to expressing the hopeful and heroic, he declares, identifying the leading through-line of his work as “Black joy.”

“Definitely Black joy, and definitely Black glam,” says Betts. “I mean, even if I’m doing a show that has some relationship to suffering, I’m always like, ‘Okay, let’s make them look as best as possible.’ I really just don’t think that representations of Black people where we don’t look our best are necessary or extremely helpful, at least in my world.” But looking glam doesn’t mean living free of conflict, according to Betts.

“I always want to make sure that Black people look great, and that we’re telling stories that aren’t conflict-averse, but have a relationship to joy, and [tell] stories that, even if they are rich and should be rich in conflict, give us hope. I don’t find hopelessness artistically appetizing. I understand it, and I can be in the audience for it. But as an artist, I don’t find hopelessness artistically interesting.”

The Hot Wing King runs through April 28 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert St. in Baltimore, Md.

Tickets are $25 to $74, with discounts available for students and seniors. Call 410-332-0033 or visit

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