by Deirdre Donovan
on Broadway? Douglas Lyons’ uproarious new comedy that recently opened at
Circle in the Square. Under the direction of Zhailon Levingston, it’s
overly long, but if you want to see a play that hilariously captures the
crossfire of family members, this is your comedy.
Despiite its home spun flavored promotional ads
and title the playwright has unfailing comic instincts and creates eight characters that are bursting with life, longings, and very human idiosyncrasies. Lyons’ dialogue is pitch-perfect, echoing the lingo of a black family living in the new millennial. We hear references to Facebook, Tik-Tok, Uber, Lyft, Jenny Craig, Amazon gift cards, and more.
And Lyons also
tucks an unexpected twist into his domestic comedy that would make the master
plot-twister O’Henry proud.
The lights go
up on a modest-looking living room, where fifty-something Baneatta
Mabry (Cleo King) is applying make-up while soulfully singing “No Not
One.” Baneatta is the wife of Reginald Mabry (Norm Lewis), the new pastor of the home church,
who inherited the pulpit from his late father-in-law Bernard Jenkins.
Baneatta is mourning the loss of her beloved father, what is really pressing on
her mind is how she will maintain her Christian composure with her relatives as
they all say their final “goodbye” to their patriarch. Or as she puts
it: “Lord. . Bless me with your patience to deal with my family, for they
know not what they do. Lord, help me keep my eyeballs rolled forward, as
they have a tendency to roll backwards around foolishness. And Lord, keep me from
strangling my baby sister, no matter how much she tests me. For you and I
both know . . . she’ll try it.”
that family gatherings can sometimes turn into battlegrounds in a blink, in
which past grievances can flare up into fresh arguments and pointed
accusations. So prepare yourself for some good old-fashioned mud-slinging as
the characters collide in this domestic comedy.
laughs, Chicken & Biscuits
takes a deep-dive into contemporary issues like gay life and interracial
relationships. Case in point: Kenny Mabry, (Devere Rogers) the
20-something gay son of Baneatta and Reginald Mabry has brought unannounced his
white Jewish boyfriend, Logan (Michael Urie), to the funeral celebration. It’s
a bold step for Kenny as his family has hardly acknowledged Logan in the
past. In fact, his mother annoyingly mis-remembers Logan’s name each time
she greets him.
Kenny’s grandfather had no problem at all remembering Logan’s name. In
fact, he had pulled Kenny aside after first meeting Logan and whispered
“Ken-Ken, if that Logan boy makes you happy, he’s alright by me. I want
you happy. You keep him close. Don’t you let him go, for nobody.”
the presence of Logan at the funeral celebration becomes a kind of litmus test
on tolerance for the entire black family. And it also places Kenny in a
situation in which he must show his backbone as a gay man. Will he retreat
to the “closet” during his grandfather’s funeral and pretend that Logan is just
his friend? Or will he stand his ground and introduce Logan as his
partner? Indeed, how Kenny—and his family evolve—over the course of the play,
provide for some of the most poignant moments in Chicken & Biscuits.
would be nothing without the right actors to keep it afloat. And,
fortunately, the cast is buoyed up by a strong ensemble. Although you
might at first be surprised to see Norm Lewis, a musical theater veteran, cast
as the new Reverend Reginald Mabry, you will soon understand why when Lewis
belts out a soul-stirring hymn with his rich baritone voice that crosses the
footlights like liquid gold. Cleo King is ideal as the righteous but
loving Baneatta Mabry. Alana Raquel Bowers plays Simone with an appropriate
sweetness. Ebony Marshall-Oliver inhabits the single mom Beverly Jenkins
with real ferocity. Camille Upshaw (understudy to Aigner Mizzelle) nails
the part of the loquacious 15 year-old La’trice Franklin. And Natasha
Yvette Williams performs Brianna Jenkins with a touching sincerity. Devere
Rogers is well-cast as the gay son Kenny Mabry, as is Michael Urie as his lover
with the creative team. Lawrence E. Moten III’s minimalist set uses
backless benches to suggest alternately the interior of the Mabry home, a
hotel, and a church. Adam Honoré even lighting allows viewers to see all
the action unfold in the theater in-the-round. And Dede Ayite’s costumes
are spot-on, from Baneatta’s conservative black dress to Beverly’s risqué one,
which, when worn with a push-up bra, looks steamy indeed.
Yes, the intermission-less
show runs too long at two hours. If some scenes were trimmed, it would
likely make audience-members shift less in their seats during the last half
Still, Chicken & Biscuits is
one scrumptious piece of theater. And, hands down, it’s the funniest show
of the new season.
November 28th (show was originally expected to run through early
at Circle in
the Square Theater, Manhattan
information, phone 212-239-6200 or online chickenandbiscuitsbway.com.
Running time: 2
hours with no intermission.