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Review: CHICKEN & BISCUITS at Asolo Repertory Theatre

Review: CHICKEN & BISCUITS at Asolo Repertory Theatre

Now On Stage at Asolo

Douglas Lyons' Chicken & Biscuits is a saucy recipe for mayhem with a side of humor, a pinch of wit, and two full cups of, well...we'll talk about Miss Beverly later. May we all gather peacefully and respectfully with the soulful Jenkins family from New Haven, Connecticut to say goodbye to Grandpa Bernard, "B" at his celebration of life ceremony. This not-so-typical funeral service (repeat-it's a celebration of life) is overseen by his son-in-law the patient and doting Reverend Reginald (La Shawn Banks) and his wife, the first lady of the church, who is Grandpa B's eldest daughter, self-righteous Baneatta (Tracey Conyer Lee). But this recipe ain't done yet. Like any good mixture, the more ingredients you add to the bowl, the more interesting the sauce.

Let's add a little spice to this concoction. Pour in a good measure of Beverly (Jasmine Rush), Baneatta's younger well-endowed sister (2 full cups, get it?), and her cute but rather precocious, 15-going-on-16-year-old daughter La'Trice (Dreaa Kay Baudy). For a little heat, sprinkle in Baneatta and Reginald's only son Kenny (Ernest Bentley), who is accompanied by his white, awkwardly social, Jewish boyfriend, Logan (Dean Linnard). Simone (Imani Lee Williams), Kenny's repressed sister adds a touch of bitters due to her disdain for her brother's "partner" choices while hiding the fact that her ex-boyfriend left her for a white woman.

This is a lot to cook. But wait! There's more. Any great compound incorporates a secret sauce that brings the dish together, offering undertones of mystery, yet pleasing to the palate. Enter Brianna (Candice McKoy), Grandpa B's illegitimate daughter. Now we're cookin'!

From the hilarity sassy Beverly brings by distastefully displaying cleavage at her father's funeral, to the judgment rendered to certain family members by sanctimonious Baneatta, Lyons treats the audience to a roller coaster of emotions, dramatic gesturing, and a great sermon. Jokes about Grandpa B's love of chicken & biscuits and his failed attempts at making them added a sweet sentiment to his memory. Each character was portrayed with substance and the fine cast worked very well together. You don't want to take sides in this family battle because you understand the complexity of their characters and just want this family to get along.

Although the plot is fairly predictable, the show is lively and amusing. A scene between niece La'Trice and Auntie Simone was the only odd man out that didn't seem to fit into the storyline. Although the talk between them was heartfelt and touching about La'Trice not knowing her father or the love and guidance of a father, La'Trice throughout the story focused on her 15-going-on-16-year-old self and what family members were getting her for her birthday. The lament over her father just popped out of nowhere. Because of that, I was expecting him to suddenly show up. He didn't. But even better, Brianna made her surprise appearance and really stirred up this pot.

Tracey Conyer Lee as Baneatta is the embodiment of a multi-layered character that morphs before our eyes. She's a tough cookie with a big heart and watching her unfold her character is pure art. If you have been in the presence of La Shawn Banks as Reginald, you have been to church! Banks gives a sermon most pastors would aspire to. I almost stood up and shouted hallelujah! Jasmine Rush as Beverly sets the stage on fire. She is glamorous and bold and holds nothing back. Playing Beverly's self-centered daughter La'Trice, Dreaa Kay Baudy offers up some carefree teenage charm to the stage. Ernest Bentley brings Kenny to life as the only sane one in the family and adds a more demure and sensitive touch to the madness. Dean Linnard as the out-of-place Jewish white boy portrays Logan as a caricature with great comedic timing and an uneasiness in his skin, awkwardly trying his best to support Kenny. As Brianna, Candice McKoy rounds off this delightful cast with the calm sweetness of her likable character.

Kudos to Bianca LaVerne Jones whose direction chaperoned this cast to dig deep into the breadth and depth of their characters and shine. The colorfully stunning scenic design by Antonio Troy Ferron adds the warmth and beauty of a church highlighting tall stained-glass windows and accented by ambient lighting design by Jared Gooding. Projection design by Rasean Davonté Johnson adds layers of depth and movement. These collaborative combinations lend themselves to a well-plated dish.

Since I am going with a food theme in this review I will close with this - presentation is everything. Sarasota audiences should go feast on this presentation of Chicken & Biscuits and enjoy a delicious time at Asolo.

Chicken & Biscuits is being served through April 13, 2023, at Asolo Repertory Theatre,

Photo credit Cliff Roles.

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