Five Reasons Why Chicken & Biscuits is Broadway’s Delightful Main Course
By: Iris Wiener
October 14, 2021: Chicken & Biscuits is a delectable treat, one that excites the pallet and leaves its audiences satiated with joy. A funeral may not be the first place one would imagine a comedy being set, but this feast delivers at every turn. Playwright Douglas Lyons builds a full Baptist memorial service in a Black church, at which the Jenkins’, a family of misshapen, foiled characters, arrive to mourn (or celebrate) the passing of their elder. The uplifting heart and abounding humor are only two of many reasons audiences will want second helpings of this perfect reason to revisit Broadway. Here are five more:
1. Playwright Douglas Lyons’ debut marks insightful comedy and a clever understanding of voice and structure. His résumé boasts prior experience on Broadway as an actor (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and The Book of Mormon), so it is no surprise that he exceptionally captures the nuances of his delightful menagerie of characters as the plot thickens and eventually boils over to epic proportions. Whether biting at one another, crying on one’s shoulders, or engaged in fantastically uncomfortable silences, the Jenkins’ are scrumptiously entertaining.
2. The exceptional ensemble never disappoints. The Jenkins family includes a pastor (Norm Lewis), his strait-laced wife Beanetta (Cleo King), and her outrageous, blue-haired, cleavage swinging sister, Beverly (Ebony Marshall-Oliver). Beverly brings her 16 year-old daughter, La’trice (Aigner Mizzelle), whose perfect balance of indifference and energy feel incredibly effortless and insanely funny. Banetta’s daughter Simone (Alana Raquel Bowers) arrives having recently called off her engagement, while her brother Kenny (Devere Rogers) brings his white boyfriend (Michael Urie) along for the rise. Kenny hilariously mutters that the circus-like proceedings are better than Drag Race, and he is not incorrect. NaTasha Yvette Williams also joins the fun commotion in a role that is better left undisclosed. Five of the actors are making their Broadway debuts, and clearly have illustrious careers ahead of them. Mizzelle is a leading comedic actress in the making, vibrant and radiating laughter in her full-on embodiment of a teenager who just wants to hear her mixtape drop next week! Urie steals every show in which he appears, here displaying an amazing ease with physicality and warmth interspersed with comedic timing. His attempt to read the Bible in Biscuits is not to be missed, nor is his interlude with Mizzelle near play’s end.
3. Zhailon Levingston’s direction is crafty and creative. His vision is markedly unique, with his cast constantly in motion, playing to an audience of church congregants as they invite them to be a part of the delightful proceedings. Lawrence E. Moten III’s set is minimal yet inviting. In hands less capable than Levingston’s it may have created awkward transitions when moving multiple pieces to move between the inside and front of the church; Levingston keeps the action flowing and the laughs coming with seamless movement. Shockingly, Biscuits marks his Broadway debut; he is also the youngest Black director to work on a Broadway stage, and his fresh vision is a gift.
4. What better way for Levingston to make is mark than with the glorious playground that is the Circle in the Square Theatre? His use of the theater in the round is exceptional, with actors entering and exiting at all junctures, often times beaming under spotlights that also deck the audience. Moten’s design encompasses the entire theater, including colorful images lining the walls in the round. He has created the authentic feel of stained-glass windows, while Adam Honore’s lights are arranged in such a way that everyone in the room, congregation included, is enveloped in the experience. It is hard to imagine this show not performed in the round, as Lyons’ words integrated with its structure makes for a naturally encompassing experience.
5. Norm Lewis’ pastor, Reginald, could inspire a non-practicing Jew to venture to church. He gives an inspired, laugh-out-loud, jump-from-your-seat eulogy, one that in lesser hands would never hold up. Lewis’ true genius is on display with his ability to build to a gloriously powerful climax while still imbibing laughs. Reginald says, “When you know where you’re going, you can smile right where you are.” Know that you’re going to see this invigorating, smartly funny new play-you’ll smile right where you are and when you get there.
Chicken and Biscuits: Oct. 10—Jan. 2, 2022.
Circle in the Square, 1633 Broadway, NYC.
Tue 7pm, Wed 2 pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
$49.50—$225.50. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com.
Photography: Emilio Madrid