note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Susan Daniels
First published in the Quincy Patriot Ledger
“Fried Chicken and Latkes,” Rain Pryor’s autobiographical show about growing up in Beverly Hills during the 1970s and 1980s with her famous black father and Jewish mother, is a tribute to both parents and both cultures.
Created, written and co-produced by the daughter of the late Richard Pryor, perhaps America’s most famous comic revolutionary, and Shelley Bonus, a Jewish go-go dancer, the one-woman show is told through song, a little dance, and a variety of characters, including Pryor’s two disparate grandmothers, who share the common bond of liberally loving her and dispensing advice that, at times, is both humorous and poignant. Performed with style and finesse by Pryor this past weekend at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton, the 36-year-old versatile singer, mimic, comedienne, dancer and story teller takes us through at 75-minute journey of hate, racism, fear, loss and love, with twists and turns filled with comedy and humanity.
Whether Pryor is spouting the “N” word, like her father before her, a litany of swears as colorful as her cast of characters, or a primer of Jewish words that would make any Bubbe proud, Pryor moves smoothly between her two worlds, capturing the stereotypes as well as nuances of both her people. She is in her element.
Diving into her search for heritage and meaning, Pryor becomes her Grandma Bernice, an affably fussy yenta; her other grandmother, Mamma, a wise ex-madam; and inhabits a host of other characters that surrounded her life from a hair stylist to various family members, including spot-on deliveries of both parents. Punctuated by comic songs and bittersweet ballads, “Fried Chicken and Latkes” stresses that living an authentic life is not about “Where do I stand?” Instead, it’s about “Here, I stand.”
A performer all her life, beginning in her parent’s respective living rooms - they divorced when she was an infant - Pryor, at age 18, made her television debut in 1989 as series regular T.J. on the hit ABC show “Head of the Class.” She also starred for several years opposite Lynn Redgrave and Sherilyn Fenn as Jackie, the lipstick lesbian drug addict on the Showtime series “Rude Awakening.” Guest appearances on various TV shows, numerous independent features, along with roles in the films “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and Melvin Van Peebles movie, “Panther,” have accounted for a good portion of her professional credits.
But it’s “Fried Chicken and Latkes,” the show that opens with Pryor greeting the audience with, “Shalom, my brothers,” that identifies this Jewish soul sister as a true artist. With shticks like raising her fist to the sky while simultaneously declaring, “I’m proud and yet I feel guilty; informing us that the only color in Beverly Hills was the cars; or asking us to imagine her father sitting at the head of Passover table, Pryor, who, as a child, was lulled to sleep by Miles Davis playing his horn while babysitting her, lands the laughs as well as the drama of living a life straddling two different worlds.
Rain Pryor’s biracial identity may have presented her with a host of problems growing up, but it sure make for entertaining material. May her rainbow revolution continue.