New Haven native’s play “Chicken and Biscuits” finishes its Broadway run
“Chicken and Biscuits,” which recently ended its Broadway run early, showcases New Haven native Douglas Lyons’ efforts to exhibit Black joy and the complexity of family.
Douglas Lyons, a playwright and New Haven native, recently saw the final show of his Broadway debut — a play titled “Chicken and Biscuits.”
The play, which takes place in a fictional church in New Haven, explores Black joy and the complexities of familial ties. “Chicken and Biscuits” began Broadway shows during the pandemic. It was originally slated to close on Jan. 2, 2022, but breakthrough COVID-19 cases undermined the show’s financial viability. Instead, the final show took place on Nov. 28.
“We had some breakthrough cases in the company and having to be safe and shut down the show for 10 days put a huge dent in the financial stability of the play,” Lyons said. “But I found myself on Sunday when we closed feeling so much joy and pride on the impact we were able to make, even in the shorter time that we were on Broadway.”
Despite its complications, the pandemic also provided an opportunity for “Chicken and Biscuits.” Lyons began working on the play during the summer of 2018 and did not originally plan for it to be featured on Broadway. He indicated that the pandemic caused an opening in midtown Manhattan’s Circle in the Square Theatre — where the show was ultimately performed — and fortunately, the script was ready.
Though “Chicken and Biscuits” is Lyons’ Broadway debut for playwriting, he was previously a cast member in the Broadway shows “Beautiful” and “Book of Mormon.”
“Chicken and Biscuits” is a story of familial love, secrets and reconciliation. Set in the fictional St. Luke’s Church of New Haven, it follows the journey of the Jenkins family who have gathered there for the funeral of their patriarch, Bernard Jenkins. Not only does every member of the family have a different relationship with Bernard, but tensions also flare between family members. Sisters fight, cousins reconcile, partners navigate their relationships and a family secret tests the strength of their bonds, as described in an article by the Arts Council of New Haven.
By choosing the setting of a historically Black church in New Haven, Lyons explores Black and queer identities, what it means to be a Black woman and the significance of family. According to Lyons, the play also “honors the fabrics” of his hometown of New Haven. In fact, “Chicken and Biscuits” was influenced by Lyons’ own experience of coming home to New Haven for a funeral.
“I wanted to showcase Black joy and healing in a space traditionally not centering us, and so I’m very glad we had the opportunity to do that,” Lyons said.
Ebony Marshall-Oliver played Beverly, one of Bernard Jenkins’s daughters. Marshall-Oliver started singing in church as a child and then discovered a passion for theater during her mid-20s.
“My overall experience was beautiful,” Marshall-Oliver said. “I had the time of my life and developed relationships that will last a lifetime.”
Marshall-Oliver also noted the passion and creativity that everyone involved in the production had. “It was humbling to hear what this meant to everyone involved,” she said. According to the production’s Playbill program, “Chicken and Biscuits” is Marshall-Oliver’s Broadway debut.
“Our director, Zhailon Levingston, created a space where we were free to just be,” she said. “We were free to try, fail, try again and again until we got to something we could all be proud of. It was a collaboration.”
Lyons is working on a number of new projects, including a pilot television program and a new play called “Invisible.”