“Chicken & Biscuits” not cooked to perfection

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The play
The play "Chicken and Biscuits" at Crossroads Theatre

The final offering for this season’s holiday theatre-goers is Crossroads Theatre’s production of Chicken & Biscuits, a Broadway offering of the past season. I had hopes for a tasty comic treat, but ended up a little disappointed in the less-than-hearty fare served up here.

Don’t get me wrong — the play itself, by Douglas Lyons, is solid, and the acting talent is of good quality. But both play and cast have been mis-served by director Lynda Gravátt’s misguided direction and at times dismally slow pacing. The play, its cast, and its director are hampered by the bizarre lighting design of James Carter, with wandering spotlights, a strobe effect that makes you ask “why?,” and some characters giving their lines in the dark.

Lyons’ story concerns the funeral of a Black pastor, Bernard Jenkins, in New Haven, CT. His two daughters, uptight church lady Baneatta (Inga Ballard) and brassy, free-spirited Beverly (Candice McKoy), are unable to say a kind word to each other without immediately descending into bickering. Baneatta’s husband, the slightly-henpecked but loving Reginald (Eddie Gouveia Blackman), is uncertain about stepping into his father-in-law’s position as pastor.

Also in attendance are Beverly’s smart-mouthed 16-in-three-weeks daughter La’Trice (Madison McBride); Baneatta’s daughter Simone (Deja Anderson-Ross) and son Kenny (George Pearson Roberts); Kenny’s Jewish boyfriend Logan (Matt Dengler); and Brianna (Ashley Nicole Baptiste), a mystery woman. During the course of the day, old grievances are aired, memories are shared, secrets are uncovered, and healing, in ways conventional and unconventional, starts to take place.

On the technical side, credit must be given to the solid church set designed by Patrice Davidson; the stylistically perfect costumes of Isabel Rubio; and the gospel-tinged underscoring of e’Marcus Harper-Short.

The cast tries to bring life to the play’s characters — succeeding in several scenes but apparently failing overall for lack of a firm directorial vision. Chicken & Biscuits falls short of being the full-out comedy it could have been.

I wish Artistic Director Ricardo Khan better luck with the remainder of Crossroads’ season, which looks promising. Some audience members, especially those with a history with Black churches, may find humor in this production. Still, I cannot whole-heartedly recommend making the trip to New Brunswick to savor the less-than-tasty meal that is Chicken & Biscuits.

Chicken & Biscuits is presented by Crossroads Theatre Company in the Arthur Laurents Theatre at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center through December 31, 2022.  For more information or to purchase tickets, visit crossroadstheatrecompany.org or call 732-745-8000.

Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first live play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. He works in the box office at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.