Good luck trying to follow the meandering plot of “The Hot Wing King,” Katori Hall’s good-natured kitchen comedy about an amateur cook besieged by disruptive family and friends while he’s struggling to create a prize-winning batch of spicy wings. In this production at Off Broadway’s Signature Theatre, your heart goes out to Toussaint Jeanlouis’ endearing Cordell, who is frantically trying to rustle up his famous mouth-scalding ribs for a culinary contest to be held the next day in Memphis.
It doesn’t help that he’s working in an unfamiliar kitchen. Cordell has only recently moved in with his boyfriend, Dwayne (the very solid Korey Jackson), and he understandably feels the need to prove himself. No pressure, no pressure at all, but — eeek!
Everybody and his uncle drops in to look over the cook’s shoulder, offer unwanted advice and otherwise get in the way, and Michael Carnahan’s set design of a very small and very busy kitchen adds to the chaos as people continue to pile in: There’s Isom (Sheldon Best, having a grand time), whose main contribution is a string of one-liners; Big Charles (Nicco Annan), who just wants to watch the football game; and young EJ (Cecil Blutcher), Dwayne’s nephew, who shows up unexpectedly. Then comes EJ’s father, TJ (Eric B. Robinson, Jr.).
Director Steve H. Broadnax III gets the best results when he keeps everybody and his uncle squished into the narrow kitchen, “helping” Cordell by over-seasoning, slacking their duties and generally getting underfoot. Those crowd scenes work so well, you wonder why Hall (“Tina,” “The Mountaintop”) and her design team even bothered with the superfluous settings of a living room and an upstairs bedroom. It certainly wasn’t demanded by the loose-limbed plot, which turns on TJ’s feeble bid to take his son back home to live with him.
Although it presents itself as a gay sitcom, the “sit” isn’t sturdy enough to sustain the “com,” which actually comes from the extremely likable characters. You wouldn’t want to banish any of these guys from your own kitchen, but let’s really hear it for Jeanlouis’ Cordell, whose frantic attempts to ignore the chaos and prep and cook his famous wings (which are liberally seasoned with bourbon) are endearingly hopeless.