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by: Paulanne Simmons


It’s not always easy being the child of a celebrity. But when that celebrity happens to be a controversial black comedian named Richard Pryor, and your mother is a white, Jewish woman, your childhood may have been especially turbulent. Rain Pryor, however, seems to have turned out just fine. She’s a director, producer, actor, stand-up comedian, educator, activist and mother. She has headlined at Carolines and Broadway Comedy Club. And now she has turned her life experiences into a a solo show called Fried Chicken & Latkes.

In this cabaret-style show, directed by Kamilah Forbes, Rain plays over eleven characters, including her mother, her maternal grandmother, her paternal great grandmother, various friends and, of course, her father. Rain, who is a an accomplished singer, also displays her vocal talents when appropriate. The gospel song that accompanies her father’s funeral is a standout.

Although Pryor was married to Rain’s mother for only two years, and a great deal of her contact with her father seems to have been through chaotic visits, he was an important influence in her life, encouraging her to pursue a career in entertainment. But Rain’s mother, a one-time go-go girl and full-time activist, was a force to contend with. And her grandmother, a European Jew, surrounded Rain with Jewish culture.

Still, there seems to be a lot more fried chicken than latkes in this show. Rain recounts the first time she was called “nigger,” her pained surprise when she was told she couldn’t possibly be Jewish and her great grandmother’s views on how black women could make money off white men’s sexual desires. She ends the show with a lament over current events and the hope that race relations will improve for her own bi-racial daughter.

This, of course, does not mean the show is not extremely funny at times. Rain is a fine mimic with a great sense of timing. She is her father’s daughter in many ways. And she knows how to laugh at herself and make us laugh at our foibles. Her trip to the hairdressers is a case in point.

Fried Chicken & Latkes is not going to end racial discord. It won’t even make anyone feel great about the progress we have made since the Civil War. Nor is this what Rain had in mind when she created the show. But Fried Chicken & Latkes may give us a taste of what life is like for people who live in different, sometimes antagonistic worlds.

Fried Chicken & Latkes runs through June 28 at National Black Theatre, 2031 Fifth Ave., www.nationalblacktheatre.org, 212-722-3800.

Photos: Christine Jean Chambers