William Yore, Morgan Younge, Angela Williams, & Delane Bracken in Oh Lord! Mama Done Burnt the Biscuits. Promotional image courtesy of Smoked Apple Theatre Group.
Oh Lord! Mama Done Burnt the Biscuits
By Nipsey Green
Directed by Janelle Renee Dunn
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
For the second production of its first full season, Smoked Apple Theatre Group presents a full-length play by Artistic Director Nipsey Greene. Oh Lord! Mama Done Burnt the Biscuits is a broad and raucous comedy fashioned after 1990’s era sitcoms, complete with commercial breaks and a flashing “Applause” sign to gratuitously cue the audience.
Mama Fishfry (Morgan Younge) is a single mother of two: Latiqua (Angela Williams) is in college, and Rashad (William Yore) a senior in high school. Mama Fishfry’s mother, Hattie May (Nipsey Greene) also lives with the family, while their father, Bishop (DonShea Stringer), is in prison after being framed on a drug possession charge by Vincent Van Gogh Jenkins (Antonio “T-Made” Taylor).
That last item is portrayed in an opening scene framed as “Last week on Oh Lord! Mama Done Burnt the Biscuits”, and the set and costumes all effectively reinforce the situation comedy format, although some of the language is a little more authentic than what would be encountered on broadcast network television. Greene uses the conceit liberally, peppering his script with references to the facile cultural motifs of the genre: Mama Fishfry is famous for her biscuits, which she is forever baking; Latiqua and her friend, Shayboo (Delane Bracken) are sassy and often infantile in their behavior (and a riot) ; Hattie May is a dirty old lady lusting after the muscular young neighbor, Keith (Tristan Barnes), who plays every scene shirtless as part of an ongoing joke about the quality of his wardrobe.
The whole thing is wildly uneven, and a fair reflection of the quality of the shows Greene targets for his parody. Some of the jokes fall flat, (the commercials fail completely to be funny and interrupt the narrative flow) some of the playing is indifferent, but the production works so hard to earn its place in the heart of the audience, pacing the material so that any awkward moment or dropped cue is followed hard upon by a new joke or bit of business, establishing an overall winning tone that is hard to resist.
Oh Lord! Refuses to confine itself strictly within the sitcom format, and switches gears for the climax to embrace a whole other television genre. I wont spoil the surprise here, but it’s timing coincides with a point where the show feels like it is running out of gas, and the change-up gives the show a shot of energy that allows it to deliver an uproarious, crowd-pleasing ending.
A lot of that energy comes from key performances. Morgan Younge does well by Mama, but a lot more quirk and color is given to Angela Williams and Delane Bracken, who make a scrappy comic team and are the best example of Greene’s use of understated asides in the background. Antonio “T-Made” Taylor gives the improbably named Vincent Van Gogh Jenkins an unapologetic brio that dominates when he is onstage. William Yore is a sweet-natured and soulful Rashad, and DonShea Stringer also shows great confidence as Bishop. Stefan Woods does fair utility work in earlier scenes but truly distinguishes himself in the final scenes as TV host Cory Stoviach.
Discussing playwright Greene’s own performances in three roles could involve spoilers, so I will restrict myself to his outrageous Hattie May. Greene plays the role in deliberately coarse and unconvincing drag, and with a full beard, and I take the whole characterization as a parody of Tyler Perry’s work as the similarly matriarchal Medea. I myself have never understood Medea’s appeal, and I think the character often undermined the impact of Perry’s most interesting work. I could not decide if Greene is judging or merely poking good fun with his Hattie May, but the audience ate it up.
Of no small importance was the presence of composer/musician Joe Dunn, who performed his own original score live with the Nomad Quartet, who, aside from Dunn, consisted of Brandon Bell, Taylor Nelson, and Dave Nelson. They provided an expert and welcome accompaniment that helped lift the production.
Greene clearly has more on his mind than another self-referential cultural parody, but I’m not certain he knows how to fully contain it. His play is smart for using the Black media stereotypes of the 90’s to reflect upon African American cultural identification. Greene himself, and apparently a good portion of his opening night audience, came of age with such shows, and the satirical lens he turns on them in his text seeks to capture them as specimens of the firm move of Black culture into the mainstream that peaked in this period. As such, Oh Lord! Mama Done Burnt the Biscuits stands as a solid representation of an African American theatrical voice that holds a broad appeal for all audiences.
Oh Lord! Mama Done Burnt The Biscuits
July 15, 16, 21, 22,23 @ 8pm
July 17, 24 @ 5:30pm
Ticket price: $21 / General – $16 / Seniors & Students
For tickets: 502-584-7777 or go to http://Kentuckycenter.org
Smoked Apple Theater Group
At The MeX
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.