Asolo Rep's Chicken & Biscuits Goes for Big Laughs
Funerals and weddings have certainly been fertile soil for books, plays and movies taking an up close look at family relationships under pressure. A recent arrival on the scene, Douglas Lyons’ Chicken & Biscuits, now onstage at Asolo Rep, may not add much new to the dynamics, but it certainly stretches a long way to get laughs.
Lyons’ play, which had a shortened run on Broadway due to Covid a while back, centers on the Black Jenkins/Mabry family, assembling for a final farewell to its patriarch. Bernard was a pastor of a church in New Haven, Connecticut, and the father of sisters Baneatta (Tracy Conyer Lee) and Beverly (Jasmine Rush), who are about as different as sisters can be. Baneatta, married to Bernard’s successor as pastor, Reginald Mabry (La Shawn Banks), is uptight as a rule, and made more so by the tension of the approaching funeral. Beverly, on the other hand, is as loose and wild as they come, wearing an outrageous low-cut dress and an attitude to match to the services for their father.
She also has in tow her own daughter, the teenage La’Trice (Dreaa Kay Baudy), a would-be rapper whose style of clothing is as unconventional as her mom’s. (Dede Ayite’s costumes do as much to reveal character here as the script or the performances.) La’Trice isn’t excited about attending the funeral, but she is glad to meet up after a long time with her gay cousin Kenny (Ernest Bentley), Baneatta’s son, who brings along his white Jewish partner Logan (Dean Linnard), whose name Baneatta can never remember and whose presence she could do without. Then there’s Kenny’s sister Simone (Imani Lee Williams), who’s got reasons of her own for hostility to her bro and his beau.
It's a volatile mix, and Lyons pulls out all the stops for laughs, even if some of them feel forced. Most of them spring from Beverly’s flamboyance, but the play also mines humor from other broad strokes, whether it’s Logan’s complete unfamiliarity with a Black church service or the arrival of a stranger to the proceedings, a woman named Brianna (Candice McKoy). Her character won’t be that much of a surprise to anyone who’s ever seen a play before.
While Chicken & Biscuits definitely goes for those belly laughs, there are scenes, for each character, where some struggles and sadness are also revealed, so they are not completely one-dimensional. Director Bianca LaVerne Jones, who served as assistant director on the Broadway production, matches Lyons’ over-the-top style, and there is certainly fun to be had, especially during the funeral itself, where Banks deserves credit for rolling out a rousing preacher eulogy. Rush is generous to a fault with her expressiveness, and Bentley and Linnard make a cute if not 100 percent believable couple.
It all plays out on a set by Antonio Troy Ferron that highlights the stained-glass windows of the church, while also taking us to other locales, sometimes aided by projection designs by Rasean Davonte Johnson. Oftentimes raucous, occasionally more sentimental, Chicken & Biscuits takes us inside an American family that many theatergoers don’t often see represented.
Chicken & Biscuits continues through April 13; for tickets, call (941) 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.