Dominion offers up overcooked ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ in Atlanta

Not even the greatest director or actors in the world would be capable of transforming a run-of-the-mill piece into a work of art. In the case of Dominion Entertainment Group’s independent production of the rather tasteless “Chicken & Biscuits” (continuing through this weekend at the Southwest Arts Center), the stage talents involved are barely able to elevate playwright Douglas Lyons’ raucous comedy to the level of a run-of-the-mill piece.

Credit: Mel Burton

Credit: Mel Burton

The unfortunate director in this proverbial hot seat happens to be the nationally recognized Thomas W. Jones II — one of our very best, indeed, who’s on an uncommonly busy local streak of late, with Horizon Theatre Company’s recently closed “Square Blues” behind him and next month’s “Alabama Story” at Georgia Ensemble Theatre just ahead. (We’re usually lucky to see his work here once every year or two.) And his poor cast, which includes several newcomers (at least to me), also boasts such proven and qualified performers as Tonia Jackson, Naomi Lavette and the particularly notable Enoch King.

But stereotypical caricatures are stereotypical caricatures nevertheless. They portray the senior members of an extended Black family who gather for the funeral of their elderly patriarch, Bernard. Jackson and Lavette are his alternately gaudy and haughty daughters, estranged sisters Beverly and Baneatta. King is the latter’s husband, Reginald, the new minister at their church, whose first sermon will be his eulogy for the late Bernard, the former preacher for whom he’s taking over.

Credit: Mel Burton

Credit: Mel Burton

Also on hand to pay their respects: Reginald and Baneatta’s gay son, Kenny (Derrick Robertson), and his white and Jewish boyfriend, Logan (Chase Steven Anderson), a couple of actors; Kenny’s older sibling, Simone (Tequilla Whitfield), who’s newly single and recovering from an eating disorder; Beverly’s bratty teenaged daughter, La’Trice (Anaya Cheyenne), a wannabe TikTok hip-hop artist; and a late-arriving mystery guest named Brianna (Brittani Minnieweather).

In the dubious style of an outlandish extended sitcom episode, most of them seem to embrace Beverly’s initial assertion that the church service shouldn’t be a funeral so much as a celebration of Bernard’s life. Several family members are given the floor to deliver monologues recounting personal anecdotes about their dearly departed father and grandfather. Most of the eulogies are prone to unbridled hysterics, with different relatives frequently opening and then slamming shut the lid to his casket, or frantically rolling it to and fro around the sanctuary.

Credit: Mel Burton

Credit: Mel Burton

Straight-faced reactions from other participants range from suitably “speechless” (Reginald) to understandably “embarrassed” (Baneatta). To hear somebody talk about the gathering as a reflection of family in its “purest, most fragile form” is to be utterly confounded. The script typically squanders potentially moving moments for cheap laughs — for example, Kenny’s recollection of a transformative event from his childhood, when Bernard took him to see “The Lion King” — only to finally resort to mawkish emotionalism in the process of awkwardly wrapping up the plot’s various loose ends.

The standout among director Jones’ design team is costumer Trey Giddens, and not just in terms of Baneatta and Beverly’s funeral finery: Dig the athletic wear Kenny and Logan are in when they land at the airport, color-coordinated to match their luggage (with a nod to props master Fredrieka Lloyd). That may not sound like much in the (hardly) grand scheme of things, but it’s the sort of simple, subtle touch the rest of “Chicken & Biscuits” could sorely use.


THEATER REVIEW

“Chicken & Biscuits”

Through June 28. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. $45-$50. Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road SW, Atlanta. dominionent.org.

Bottom line: Not without a certain flavor, but far too heavy on the empty calories.