By Shannan Clarke
Chicken & Biscuits at the Virginia Repertory November Theatre did not disappoint! Fresh off of its Broadway run, this play is coming in HOT! Not only is the writing exceptional, but the cast is fully in sync and full of energy and excitement. While you may not have seen this play yet, you will certainly be able to relate to the plot (or know someone else who can). The story follows a Black family, the Jenkins, as they endure the twists and turns, highs and lows, and drama and distress surrounding the death of their patriarch and leading up to the big day – the traditional Black family funeral. Of course, the funeral and the events prior to it were anything but, traditional.
The audience gets to witness a sibling rivalry where there’s one “none but the righteous” sister and First Lady who exaggeratedly prays to God for strength to endure her boisterous, over-the-top, “ratchet” sister as they reunite for their father’s and former pastor’s funeral. The affirming groans and nods from the audience let you know you are in familiar territory, as many families have their pair of rivaling siblings. Douglas Lyons does an excellent job of setting the stage for the contention that the audience is ready to gladly witness!
Themes such as acceptance of interracial relationships, sexuality, single parenthood, and infidelity are all embraced against a backdrop of the traditional Black church. Each one is met with plenty of comedic and, sometimes, sarcastic relief that keeps one wanting more as the plot thickens. Black elders used to say, “it all comes out in the wash,” and indeed it does, as a life-altering family secret is revealed.
The cast exhibits a rollercoaster of emotions from anger to sadness to joy, as they cope with their patriarch’s death and with each other. Amidst the familial chaos and shenanigans, the play is a hilarious, yet heartwarming story that’s not too far-fetched. Seeing a Black family portrayed in scenes that depict life with a Black church and the sounds of gospel music as its foundation, brings a nostalgic feel to the stage.
While the stage play is completely fictional, Chicken & Biscuits’ writer, Douglas Lyons life parallels his play in several ways. He, too, grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, which is where the Jenkins family lives. He was raised in the Black church and his mother was also a pastor. Lyons is an actor, writer, director, composer-lyricist and playwright who received a scholarship to attend The Hartt School, the performing arts conservatory of the University of Hartford, for musical theater. While there, he was cast in a national tour of Rent. He made his debut as an actor on Broadway in 2011 in The Book of Mormon. He was a writer and composer on Apple TV’s 2022 series Fraggle Rock. For his Broadway playwriting debut, Chicken & Biscuits, Lyons received a GLAAD nomination. His music and lyrics have been featured on CBS’s Sunday Morning Show, Carnegie Hall’s Voices of Hope Festival, and BET Plus.
Chicken & Biscuits, the second most produced play in the country in 2022-2023, will be open from September 30 – October 30 at the November Theatre, Marjorie Arenstein Stage in Richmond. It’s a must-see!