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90s-style Black sitcoms are on stage in a Louisville play

Three actors stand with scripts in hand.
Rheonna Thornton
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
“Oh Lord! Mamma Done Burnt the Biscuits” transports audiences to a live studio recording of a 90s sitcom.

“Oh Lord! Mamma Done Burnt the Biscuits” takes the conventions found in 90s Black sitcoms and converts them into a satirical stage play.

“Oh Lord! Mamma Done Burnt the Biscuits” writer and director Nipsey Green said the concept for the play came from a very personal space.

“The play itself is a satirical take on my thoughts on Black theater, and the stereotypes that they portray,” Green said.

He watched a lot of TV growing up. And felt that bringing the audience into the space of watching a live recording of a 90s sitcom, commercials and all, was the best way to express his feelings.

“I used to always get a lot of inspiration from the diaspora of Blackness as it's being portrayed to the world as a whole,” Green said. “I just feel like there are a lot of holes in regards to what all those elements portray as far as what the Black experience is. And I just want to say something about that.”

“Biscuits” as the cast and crew calls it, tells the story of Mama Fishfry and her journey to keep her children from going down the same path as their father.

Finding the line between satirizing media stereotypes versus falling into the same tropes meant adding elements those sitcoms lacked.

“We have a storyline. So that helps the audience use their imaginations and really stay with us, because it's not just all satirical,” said Morgan Younge, who plays Mama Fishfry. “It is a complete play. And we have character development. So the audience is going to stay interested.”

The play’s characters are people audience members will recognize from people they know.

“Even though these are made-up characters. They're these people who could be living their everyday lives as these characters, we know these characters, were unfamiliar with them, because it's Black culture,” said Antonio Taylor, who plays Vincent Van Gogh Jenkins.

Isaiah Archie plays various characters in the play. He said “Biscuits” offers a chance for people to interrogate just who decided certain behaviors were to be laughed at.

“These are real people. And it was other people that said that we were the caricature, or that we were the joke,” Archie said. “We do have people that sort of express themselves this chaotically this fully, this authentically, but it was oftentimes people in other rooms that were saying, ‘Oh, they're clowns, they're joking.’”

Bringing Black culture to the stage meant the actors were bringing a large part of themselves to the role.

The play debuted in 2016, and many of the same actors are reprising their original roles. The actors’ lives have changed, and that’s informed how they are approaching their character this time around.

“I think it's definitely different than the perception this time around versus last time, especially for my character for Rashad,” William Yore IV said. “ I think that last time it was really kind of finding the character like in this world, where's this character at but going this time around we have the character because how's the characters perceived around everyone else?”

Returning actors said coming back to “Biscuits” has been like a family reunion, and that closeness comes across on stage.

“We all bring a great energy when one's down, somebody is there to pick you up, regardless of what's going on, because we all have personal things going on in life, but we feed off each other,” said Delane Bracken, who plays Shay-Boo.

That support lasted though eight years between the productions of “Biscuits.”

Green said the community he’s found through productions of “Oh Lord! Mamma Done Burnt the Biscuits” has been a blessing.

“I am very humbled by the passion of these people. The stress that I deal with every day, to bring this to life has been immense and the one of the few things that have been able to get me beyond these moments is, is being here with these people that I love. I love these people,” Green said.

Creating a space where art is created by and done with Black people and perspectives in mind is a signature part of Green’s work.

“The perception of Blackness is usually pigeonholed in this genre, that genre, whether it be drugs, or whatever, or church or whatever it may be, and it doesn't necessarily progress us to the point to where we are as a whole can feel like we were presented in a good way,” Green said.

He said he hopes “Biscuits” demonstrates the multitudes within the Black experience.

The cast and crew want people to leave with a deeper understanding of Blackness in its various forms, but also in high spirits.

“I've hoped that they've had a good time and understood our story,” Younge said.

“Oh Lord! Mamma Done Burnt the Biscuits” runs May 16 through May 19 in the MeX Theater at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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