One Big Deep Breath. Now: “Chicken & Biscuits”

Presented by Front Porch Arts Collective
In partnership with Suffolk University
Written by Douglas Lyons
Directed by Lyndsay Allyn Cox
Dramaturgy by Juliette Volpe
Fight/intimacy consultations by Ted Hewlett

Dec. 9, 2022 – Jan. 8, 2023
Modern Theater
525 Washington St.
Boston, MA 02108

Critique by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON, Mass. — For centuries white people told the lie that the white experience is universal. Theatre is about universal stories, we white people said. If a story is truly universal, it can be played by any cast and be seen by anyone, and the intended message will still resonate. 

These days, it’s less about convincing producers that Black people can tell a story; it’s about convincing white people that they’ll appreciate a show created for someone else first, white people last. My fellow white people, if you can love Lizzo, an artist who has said to ETonline she makes music for the Black experience, you can love a play like The Porch’s Chicken & Biscuits

In St. Luke’s Church in New Haven, CT, sisters Baneatta Mabry (award-winning Boston actor Jacqui Parker) and Beverly Jenkins (Thomika Bridwell) are mourning the death of their father Bernard Jenkins. Reginald Mabry (Robert Cornelius) is leading the service for Bernard while being a supportive husband to Baneatta but the drama is flying too high for Reginald to catch up. 

Daughter Simone (Sabrina Lynne Sawyer) has broken up with her fiance. Their son Kenny is in a long-term relationship with Logan (Mishka Yarovoy). Baneatta has made it her personal mission to passive aggressively ignore Logan. Beverly and her daughter La’Trice (Lorraine Kanyike) are in the right but dressed for the wrong party. 

The funeral grinds to a screeching halt when Brianna Jenkins (Ines de la Cruz) delivers a 41-year-old secret. Chicken & Biscuits occurs over Bernard’s funeral and has the singing, praying, gossiping, and noshing to bring the Mabry/Jenkins family back together. 

This play spans the great diversity within American Black families and culture. The Mabry/Jenkins family are different body types, heights, skin tones, fashion senses (and lack thereof), dialects, and persuasions. Look closely and one can see a lot of representation in this show about a close-knit family and its surprises. 

The Porch’s Chicken & Biscuits is very funny. The cast has works together to create a loving, warm atmosphere where an audience feels comfortable to laugh. Not every show has that. 

Douglas Lyons this by reiterating again and again that the characters love each other. First, they say it with words. Then, director Lyndsay Allen Cox has them behave in loving ways while saying Lyons’ loving words. It’s refreshing. 

The cast occasionally breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to and with the congregation. Don’t get carried away, but I encourage theatre goers used to a more European theatre tradition to relax into the experience. 

Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography

I urge you to meet Chicken & Biscuits where it is. Don’t place unwarranted expectations on this show: clap when directed; call back when appropriate; try not to freeze up; don’t touch the actors in the aisles. Audience participation is meant to be fun. 

The costume design by Zoe Sundra straddles the line between fresh fashion and timeless. We have church lady chic on the auntie characters, Baneatta (Jacqui Parker), Brianna (Ines de la Cruz), and Simone (Sabrina Lynne Sawyer). Beverly (Thomika Bridwell) and La’Trice (Lorraine Kanyike) look ready for a night out. The gentlemen looked dapper in their suits. 

There seems to be some confusion around the costuming of Beverly Jenkins. She is supposed to look inappropriate and a little busted. Bridwell rocked her costume. I guess that’s the cross you bear when costuming a luminous cast. 

Playwright writes a white interpreter into his play. Logan Leibowitz (played with respect and kind justifiable melodrama by Mishka Yarovoy) is a white boy tossed into the deep end of stressful family politics without arm floaties. Logan is armed with his love for Kenny Mabry (Adrian Peguero who plays a cousin, son and brother with love and generosity) and little else as Chicken & Biscuits plays out.

Chicken & Biscuits is not about Logan; it’s about a Black family saying goodbye to beloved family while greeting new family. It can be hard to welcome new family members. The Mabry/Jenkin’s family doesn’t know what to do with Logan. I identify with that. 

I identify with Logan because I’m half of a bi-racial marriage. I identify with Logan because I’ve experienced in-laws induced culture shock. I identify with Logan because I have social anxiety that can cause crippling awkwardness, in me and in others.  

And, I identify with the Mabry/Jenkin’s family because I’ve had to meet people I did not want to during stressful life events. Who hasn’t? People are at their best and worst behavior at weddings, births, and yes, funerals. We all know someone who cannot be trusted with a microphone in public. There are universal truths everywhere in this play. 

White people, we don’t talk about race unless we’re forced to by our workplaces or our loved ones. As a result, we don’t actively consider the lived experience of non-white people. We don’t empathize with BIPOC who share our perceptions. Regularly attending shows like Chicken & Biscuits is committing to having this conversation.

Wendell Pierce played Willie Lohman on Broadway, but that doesn’t mean we’ve solved the problem of getting white butts into seats. Chicken & Biscuits has a lot of joy; it tells a juicy story with love. Those are universally adored reasons to attend. 

If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a donation. Every cent earned goes towards the upkeep and continuation of the New England Theatre Geek.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Comments are closed.