Connecticut Voice

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Hallelujah! Douglas Lyons’s Comedy Made It To Broadway

When we last talked with playwright-actor Douglas Lyons, he was isolated at his New York City apartment during the pandemic, and crossing his fingers for some future life for his play Chicken & Biscuits, whose run at a small Queens venue was cut short when theaters shut down in mid-March 2020. (See VOICE Winter 2020/2021 issue.)

Flash forward to October when Lyons’ comedy—which centers on a volatile African-American family during the funeral of its patriarch— pened at Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theater.

The reviews were mixed, but even critics who had reservations about the New Haven-set family play that features LGBTQ characters, acknowledged audiences’ enthusiasm, and the welcome uplift of the show.

“This family comedy, with its cheek and secrets and eulogies and amens, wants to offer audiences living in bad times an old-fashioned good one,” wrote theatre critic Jesse Green in The New York Times.

New York Magazine’s Helen Shaw wrote: “Going to Chicken & Biscuits does feel like being fed by loving but overweening relatives…it’s a meal full of comfort dishes, difficulties resolved, and love requited.”

And this from Variety’s Ayanna Prescod: Chicken & Biscuits is a feast of a production, and there is enough sustenance and libation for the entire family…with a brilliant script that’s fresh, relatable and laugh-out-loud funny. “

“Opening Night felt like a wedding, though I’m very much single,” says Lyons, 34, who was born and raised in the Fairhaven section of New Haven. “The love in the room was palpable. It was a joyous night I’ll never forget.”

Chicken & Biscuits, which is set in New Haven, draws from that community, Lyons’ family, and their church. His mother is the first female pastor of the Thomas Chapel Church of Christ in New Haven on White Street.

Lyons wrote much of Chicken & Biscuits backstage when he was appearing in the long run of Broadway’s Beautiful. (His previous Broadway show, The Book of Mormon,  was a gig he landed after he graduated from the Hartt School at the University of Hartford.)

Lyons is one of eight Black playwrights being produced on Broadway this season, a record number. The show has also attracted many celebs, including Billy Porter, Lupita Nyong’o, Lea DeLaria and Nick Jonas, who also signed on as one of the producers.

Lyons says his play was written in part “to amplify and to celebrate black women who are so often in mainstream media reduced to pain and suffering and taking care of everyone else.  My goal to open up what blackness look like and for us to be the center of the story. There is so much joy and beauty that I’ve grown up among the black women in my life. I want to show the layers and the varieties and the laughter of that world that the American theatre has missed out on.”

Chicken & Biscuits, which stars Tony Award-nominee Norm Lewis and Michael Urie, runs through Jan. 2.

And for the show’s future?

“The church doors are open and who knows what blessings are in store,” says Lyons. “We’re already getting licensing requests, so hopefully a couple years from now Chicken & Biscuits will be in every community around the country.”