When the Jenkins family gets together for the funeral of their patriarch B – the late pastor of a Black Baptist church – personalities clash, conflicts resurface, sparks fly, and secrets are revealed that turn the celebration of his life into an observance of their raucously unresolved differences. Written by Douglas Lyons and directed by Zhailon Levingston, the new comedy Chicken & Biscuits dishes up sit-com-style humor with a laugh-out-loud barrage of one-liners and hilarious over-the-top parodies of familiar character types that are played to perfection by an across-the-board delectable cast.
B’s daughters Baneatta and Beverly are polar opposites and the epitome of sibling rivalry. The elder Baneatta (a highly educated church-going professional) and her husband Reginald Mabry (the new pastor charged with delivering his father-in-law’s service) have made all the plans and are nervous about what could go wrong when the others arrive. And were they ever right to worry!
Beverly and her fifteen-year-old daughter La’trice are hardly dressed for church, and Bev’s indelicate language and behavior are equally unsuitable. The Mabrys’ son Kenny comes to the funeral with his very out-of-place white Jewish boyfriend Logan, whose name no one can seem to get right and who isn’t accepted by Kenny’s mother or sister Simone (who, we find out, had a white boyfriend of her own). And if that weren’t enough, in comes Brianna. Who? It all makes for one fiasco of a day and one uproarious evening of theater.
Tony nominee Norm Lewis as Pastor Mabry tries his best to ease the family drama and to stir the congregation’s souls with his increasingly impassioned sermon and attitude of love and acceptance. Ebony Marshall-Oliver as Bev and Aigner Mizzelle as La’Trice provide an outrageous and outspoken contrast to the more controlled but judgmental Cleo King’s Baneatta and Alana Raquel Bowers’s Simone. In his role as Kenny, Devere Rogers is caught between his family and his partner, and Drama Desk Award winner Michael Urie turns in a sidesplitting performance as Logan, who, among his other countless faux-pas, questions if the books of the Bible are arranged alphabetically so he can follow along with the church readings.
No one is perfect, everyone has issues, but they’re all eminently human and likeable, as they give their touching eulogies and reveal their personal struggles and insecurities during moments of openness and bonding with one another. Rounding out the excellent cast is NaTasha Yvette Williams as the mysterious Brianna, whose unexpected arrival has a momentous impact on the quarrelsome clan.
Aside from all the laughs, the play delivers an important lesson. People are different; there’s diversity even within your own extended family, so don’t hate – embrace. Ultimately, the Jenkins do that, and give us the happy ending and sense of unity that we all need right now.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 50 minutes, without intermission.
Chicken & Biscuits plays through Sunday, November 28, 2021, at Circle In The Square Theatre, 235 West 50th Street, NYC. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200, or go online. All audience members must wear a properly fitting mask over the nose and mouth in the theater except when eating or drinking in designated areas, must be fully vaccinated to enter the theater, and must present digital or physical proof at the door. Children under 12 and people with a medical condition or closely held religious belief that prevents vaccination may show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Those who do not comply with the policies will be denied entry or asked to leave the theater.