DeMone Seraphin is inherently familiar with the dramedy that occurs when dysfunctional families – like the Jenkins family in Virginia Rep’s production of Chicken & Biscuits – come together for a funeral and a meal.
“I know these people. I know the trauma, the secrecy – as well as the healing possibilities,” says Seraphin, who is the show’s director. “I know about Black family in the construct of Black church. There is great joy, great comedy that can also often be painful, and healing that is imminent.”
Virginia Rep’s production of Chicken & Biscuits is the show’s East Coast regional premiere. It tells the story of rival sisters preparing to bury their father, and then confronting a family secret that reveals itself at the church, throwing the proceedings into comical chaos.
The show is playing through October 30 at November Theatre.
A Helen Hayes Award nominee for his direction of Topdog/Underdog, Seraphin’s directorial credits are as impressive as his acting credits — he’s appeared on Broadway as well as nationally and internationally in shows such as Miss Saigon, Rent, Ragtime, Jesus Christ Superstar, Ain’t Misbehavin’, and Man of La Mancha. He is currently a producing partner for Avant Bard Theatre in Arlington, Virginia
Seraphin was nine years old when he walked into a youth theater project on Chicago’s West Side of Chicago and “got bit hard” by the theatrical bug. He was eleven when he received his first paycheck for performing the role of Tiny Tim. He got his actor’s Equity card at fifteen and his Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) card two years later.
“This is all I’ve done,” he says of working in the theater. “As a kid, my teachers would say I was rambunctious and had a lot of energy. The theater offers me a place to focus that energy.”
Seraphin is a strong believer in community and tries to follow in the footsteps of the man he thinks refers to as his father. “He was the guy that taught acting class when I was nine,” he says. “Now, there are at least ten young artists who look at me as a father figure. I love the impact we can make through this art, the infinite possibilities that are placed in my head.”
He’s grateful for the work that has been offered to him, he adds. “I have seen the world twice over because of this. I have been very blessed artistically, spiritually, and professionally.”
He learned from his father the importance of not just being an actor. “My dad used to say if you want to eat, you better learn how to do everything,” Seraphin says. “You have to learn how to write, direct, and be a stage manager.”
During his career, he has seen how abusive some directors can be while working with actors on a production.
“I realized it doesn’t have to be so toxic,” he says. “I work to create a space that is holistically healthy, artistically challenging, and fun – a place of joy. You don’t have to be power hungry to do the work.”
He has been told that his rehearsals are a cross between “a great therapy session and a great acting class — that [the actors] have been in someone’s church. That’s the biggest compliment I can get,” says Seraphin, who is also a first assistant presiding bishop in the Fortress Victorious International Fellowship of Churches.
Like life, Chicken & Biscuits is a combination of comedy and drama. The play is funny, poignant, and maddening, Seraphin says. “At the end, we celebrate and overcome through love and deep faith in God. This family was able to overcome the thing that can destroy a family.”
Every family has family drama, family secrets, and moments of gathering, he adds. “This family gathers over chicken and biscuits for a Sunday dinner and everybody is welcome, whatever your crazy is. My grandmother used to say when you come to this table you leave your crazy outside.”
He wants everyone to come prepared to the show to have a good time. “It’s not a museum piece so let your hair down and laugh with us. Be open to seeing a slice of life that you may not be accustomed to,” he says. “And, recognize how much more alike we are than different.”
Chicken & Biscuits, directed by DeMone Seraphin, is showing at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre through October 30. For showtimes and tickets, go here.
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Read the RFM review of Chicken & Biscuits here.