As they prepare for her father’s funeral in “Chicken & Biscuits,” a husband reminds his wife that “Today should be a day of memory and healing for the family, not chaos.”
Well, it turns out to be a day for all three — but the peace and healing will only arrive after a lot of chaos.
“Chicken & Biscuits” is the first solo production by The Front Porch Arts Collective, a Black theater company that has enriched Boston’s stages for the last half-dozen years in collaborations with larger companies.
Those coproductions have yielded gems like Antoinette Nwandu’s “Pass Over,” Marcus Gardley’s “black odyssey boston,” Caleen Sinnette Jennings’s “Queens Girl in the World,” Daniel Beaty’s “Breath and Imagination,” and George Brant’s “Marie and Rosetta.”
“Chicken & Biscuits” operates in a lighter vein. It’s a raucously big-hearted comedy by Douglas Lyons about the fissures and resilience of family, so high-spirited it might help ward off those holiday blues.
Under the direction of Lyndsay Allyn Cox, a cast of eight wholly commits to the energy level the play requires, delivering vivid portrayals as the production races along at the speed of a sitcom on Erik D. Diaz’s simple but effective church set.
Lyons’s unabashedly sentimental play resolves character conflicts a bit too tidily, but while they’re occurring those conflicts generate plenty of sparks. The playwright even manages to use “Jerry Springer” as a verb.
The fulcrum on which “Chicken & Biscuits” primarily rests is the clash between two strong-willed, very different women: the upright, devout Baneatta, played by the estimable Jacqui Parker, and her flamboyant younger sister, Beverly, portrayed by Thomika Bridwell.
For the funeral of their father, a revered pastor in New Haven, Beverly has chosen to wear a skin-tight, attention-getting blue dress. (The costume design is by Zoe Sundra.) Even before Beverly shows up, Baneatta is on edge after receiving a mysterious phone call from someone who, it’s clear, she does not want anywhere near the funeral service.
Beverly is a juicy role, and Bridwell (who was raised in Roxbury and shone last year in “BLKS” at SpeakEasy Stage Company) wrings every ounce of that juice from the part in a highly entertaining, go-for-broke performance. Parker, in the quieter role, is deeply moving in a scene of emotional catharsis late in “Chicken & Biscuits,” when we see the weight Baneatta has been carrying and her joy in finally managing to release it.
Just about everyone has something at stake on this day. Baneatta’s husband, Reginald (Robert Cornelius), is assuming her father’s role as pastor of the congregation, and he’s nervous about delivering his first sermon on such a momentous occasion. Their son, Kenny (Adrian Peguero), is gay, and, hoping for acceptance from his family at last, has brought his white boyfriend of four years, Logan (Mishka Yarovoy), to the service.
Meanwhile, Kenny’s sister Simone (Sabrina Lynne Sawyer) is trying to recover from a betrayal by her former fiancé, who broke off their engagement and is, Simone notes icily, “now dating the white woman he cheated on me with.” Observing the adults and their dilemmas — and sometimes offering sardonic, eye-rolling commentary — is La’Trice (Lorraine Kanyike), Beverly’s 15-year-old, headphones-wearing, TikTok-fixated daughter. Brianna, an unexpected guest, is played by Inés de la Cruz.
A quibble about the staging: When it’s time for family members to deliver heartfelt eulogies for the deceased patriarch, the cast’s backs are to the audience, so we can’t see their reactions. By contrast, when a verbal brawl turns physical and is enacted in slow-motion, the scene is hilarious precisely because we can see every emotion on the cast’s faces.
“Chicken & Biscuits” reminds us that families that have come apart can be put back together. In remarks addressed to the other characters but clearly meant for the audience, Reginald tells us that what we’ve witnessed was “family, in its purest and most fragile form.”
When that audience exited the Modern Theatre on Sunday, it was into the teeth of a snowstorm. As they battled the wintry weather, chances are that at least some of the spectators were trying to hold onto the laughs and the warmth of “Chicken & Biscuits.”
CHICKEN & BISCUITS
Play by Douglas Lyons. Directed by Lyndsay Allyn Cox. Presented by The Front Porch Arts Collective. At Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre, 525 Washington St. Through Jan. 8. (No performances Dec. 24-31.) Tickets $25 at frontporcharts.org and ovationtix.com