New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"Fried Chicken and Latkes"
Actors Temple Theatre, off-Broadway

Long before bi-racial children had become commonplace in this country, Rain Flower Pryor was born. Small wonder that this daughter of Black comedian Richard Pryor and Jewish go-go dancer Shelly Bonis had her problems. But Rain Pryor grew up to be a gifted entertainer, turning the very difficulties she encountered into her strengths. And though she was rejected by both Black and Jewish communities in her early years, her multi-racial background has given her a unique perspective on each culture.

Rain has made her own mark as an acclaimed director, actor, stand-up comedian, educator, speaker, activist, and Artistic Director of the Strand Theater in Baltimore, Maryland. Now, at age 43, possessed of a substantial life, both personally and professionally, her time has come to look back, with no holds barred. Thus she has created her onstage memoir “Fried Chicken and Latkes.” which is currently playing at the Actors’ Temple (a synagogue/theater in the heart of the Broadway district).

Rain comes on stage like an explosion, her frizzed afro standing out a foot on either side. As she jumps into the act, she gives every appearance of a softig Jewish maiden. But at other moments, as her head turns a certain angle, she is clearly a Black woman. In any event, there is hardly time to reflect on illusion, as Rain commands the stage and the entire theater.

As it turns out, she has a beautiful singing voice and her rendition of Billy Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” is indeed moving. And Rain has a considerable gift for impersonations—recreating those formidable forbears who affected her life. There is her very conventional Jewish grandmother, her Bubby, chiefly responsible for her early years. There is her fiercely protective mother, a strong civil rights activist. On the paternal side, there is her grandmother, a one-time prostitute. And, most memorable of all, there is her great-grandmother, a brothel-owner. Humor and poignancy mix in equal measure, as Rain recreates these characters.

How did Rain’s parents ever connect, even for the two-year run of their marriage (preceded and succeeded by other Pryor marriages)? What brought them together was not only the entertainment world, but their mutual fight for civil rights. Richard Pryor, as we know, was at the top of his form in the 70s and 80s---a stand-up comic who spoke out in a new way, providing a role model for others to come. His own troubled background (his mother a prostitute, his grandmother a brothel owner, his own sexual abuse in childhood) made for a troubled adult life. He chalked up illness, drugs, numerous wives and children, though his career forged ahead. And though he appeared intermittently in Rain’s life, he was a beloved father. He became a memorable model, not only for Rain, but for the new wave of Black stand-up comics.

And now his daughter Rain speaks out, a voice worthy to be heard. It is her turn.

-- Irene Backalenick
Aug. 2, 2012

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