Chicken & Biscuits: Family Dysfunction and A Secret Revealed at a Funeral Make For Comedy at Ensemble Theatre

The cast of Chicken & Biscuits at The Ensemble Theatre.
The cast of Chicken & Biscuits at The Ensemble Theatre. Photo by Aesthetic Alkhemy

When the Jenkins come together for their patriarch's funeral, complete with a pair of battling sisters who don't get along, the family's dysfunction is revved up a notch as all assemble at the church altar and a — organ music please — family secret is revealed.

What sounds like classic tragedy complete with Greek chorus is in this case the lively comedy Chicken & Biscuits by playwright Douglas Lyons about to open at The Ensemble Theatre.  The two-act, 90-minute play is set in New Haven, Connecticut.

Coming off a stellar 2022-23 season, Ensemble is opening its new season with this play from Broadway directed by Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris. Liz Rachelle (Paradise Blue), one of the lead actresses in the eight-member cast,  says that while the play addresses the grief people go through with a death, it also brings a lot of joy and hope. And humor.

"It premiered on Broadway right before the pandemic hit," Rachelle said. "I play the character of Beverly and Beverly, she marches  to the beat of her own drum. She instigates a little bit of the mess if you will. But at the end she is the key component that really makes the family reflect and brings the family unity.

"She is definitely a trip. She brings comedic relief,"  Rachelle said, laughing.

The role, she said, is a stretch for her as an actress, something she enjoys doing. "I enjoy playing roles that are outside of my character and allow me to express different parts of me, different emotions.  I like playing her; she's a sweet soul too as well. They call her wretched in the play."

"I am the baby daughter.  I am the baby sister to my older sister [Baneatta] she's is kind of the leader in the family. There is a family but one other character part of the family processional. That character is also very unique in the play.

"Every character is going through something and you'll be able to see the relationships between the characters really well. You'll be able to identify with each character as well because to me it feels like everybody has either that family member or that friend. People will be able to reflect on their own personal lives and take an inward look maybe on how they’re treating their loved ones or how they're not treating them and be prompted to make a change."

In a special moment, the cast was able to have a Facetime talk with playwright Lyons, who is also an actor, director and composer-lyricist. A writer and composer on Apple TV's series Fraggle Rock,  he's appeared as an actor on Broadway in The Book of Mormon and the original cast of Beautiful as well as going on tour with Rent and Dreamgirls.

"It was amazing. His heart to produce this show really to me brought a lot of hope and light and lifts the spirit of everything we're  going through at this time and people will walk away feeling light-hearted, " Rachelle said.

"You won't be bored and you will be engaged," she promised. "It goes fast and as an actor it was fast for me."

Performances are scheduled for September 22 through October 15 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at The Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main. For more information, call 713-520-0055 or visit $47-$55.
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