Theatre Squared continues to make their season available to a nationwide audience with a lively recording of their opening night of Douglas Lyons’ family dramedy Chicken & Biscuits. It’s another cohesive and enjoyable ensemble production from the Fayetteville, AK based non-profit and winner of a special 2022 Obie Award.
I saw a Zoom reading of the work in March of 2021. As was typical of that time and medium, it was messy, but I enjoyed the interrelationships and the realistic tension between characters. In its final form, the story unfolds almost entirely in one-on-one conversations, so it doesn’t flow so much as interconnect. Many of the rough edges have been sanded down so that the understandable conflicts are aired and settled at an almost unnatural pace. But the comedic exchanges and not-so-gentle ribbing remain in place. Whether you will find this satisfying or frustrating depends on how much you value resolution over the journey to get there.
Baneatta and Beverly are two dramatically different sisters brought together by the death of their much-loved father. It is clear from Baneatta’s opening prayer that the siblings are poles apart in style, attitude, and social position. Quite simply, they drive each other crazy. They even compete over who can feel more grief over the loss of a parent. A gap between expectation and reality divide the other family members as well: mothers and children, sister and brother, partners and parents. But the snipes stem more often from wanting the target to have the best life possible rather than deliberate viciousness. As one character observes, “miscommunication ruins a lot of love.”
Director Denise Chapman digs as deeply as she can to find the heart and humanity of each personality. The vivacious cast brings a warm energy to the entire proceeding. Robert Denzel Edwards is a stand out as Kenny, in part because his character is given the most vivid speech about his inner life. With his sincere ability to listen, Edwards helps Justin Mackey as his white Jewish boyfriend Logan and Candace Jandel Thomas as Ken’s wounded sister Simone shine in their scenes togethers. In another sequence, Maura Gale as Brianna covers 40 years of emotional history, providing a strong core to the plot and perhaps the toughest role. She plays well against Kathy Tyree and Tameka Bob, respectively keeping Baneatta and Beverly in their defined lanes. Michael A Jones lends solemnity as Baneatta’s husband Reggie, while Jordan Taylor sits on the other end of the spirit seesaw as Beverly’s Tik Tokking daughter La’Trice.
As usual for T2, the artistic team supports the overall vision while keeping budget in mind. Working almost entirely in black, costumer designer Devario D. Simmons gives us terrific textural queues about each character’s dominant qualities. Marie Laster’s airy church set dominated by a rose window, illuminated cross and arched doorways creates a flexible space that is defined and refined by Athziri Morales’s soft lighting.
According to American Theatre Magazine, Chicken & Biscuits was the 2nd most performed play across the USA in the 2022-23 season (right behind Clyde’s by Lynn Nottage). The banter and relatability make for a pleasant viewing experience and sometimes that’s just what’s needed in these psychically exhausting times. It runs though May 14 at TheatreSquared (477 W. Spring St., Fayetteville). Live performances are at 7:30pm Tuesday through Saturday with 2pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Digital streamers are available for 24 hours beginning at noon Central Time on the selected date. Customer service is first rate. Tickets run from $20-$54 and can be purchased by calling (479) 777-7477 or by visiting theatre2.org.
Tagged: Athziri Morales, Cathy Hammer, Davario D Simmons, Denise Chapman, Douglas Lyons, Jandel thomas, Jordan Taylor, Justin Mackey, Kathy Tyree, Marie Laster, Maura Gale, Michael A Jones, Robert Denzel Edwards, Tameka Bob, TheatreSquared
What say you?