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Fried Chicken and Latkes

Rain Pryor's autobiographical solo show needs to dig deeper to be truly satisfying.

Rain Pryor in Fried Chicken and Latkes
(© Peter Zimmern)
Deep within Rain Pryor's autobiographical solo show, Fried Chicken and Latkes, now at The Actors' Temple Theatre, there are compelling portraits of herself and her late father, the comedian Richard Pryor, still waiting to be discovered. But it's clear that Pryor needs a stronger director or dramaturg than "consulting director" Ellyn Long Marshall to help shape her story into a satisfying theatrical piece.

Pryor -- the former star of the 1980s sitcom Head of the Class -- has created a show that incorporates poetry, song, and standup in an attempt to draw a portrait of a typical American girl growing up the child of atypical parents. (Her white, Jewish mother was the second of Richard Pryor's seven wives.) While there is plenty of focus on growing up multiracial (and dysfunctional) in 1970s Southern California, Pryor offers very little in the way of fresh perspectives or engaging humor on that subject.

The first segment is built around a weak parody of the title song from the musical Cabaret in which the star asks, "What's the big deal if I'm black and Jew? Life is fried chicken and latkes, too."

It's also the kind of show that thinks putting the words "meshugana" and "motherfucka" in a sentence is, by itself, hilarious. Although Pryor does possess a nice, warm velvety belt in her voice, neither her lyrics nor her stabs at confessional slam poetry are all that well-written.

This leaves us wanting to simply connect to her story, as well as that of her parents. But, here, too, she keeps us at arm's length. She teases us with a revelation or two, like the story about her grandfather, who supposedly integrated Las Vegas nightclubs by seating Sammy Davis Jr. at a ringside table one night.

She also talks about the times that Miles Davis would drop by the house and play Baby Rain to sleep with his trumpet -- or the claim that Richard's infamous free-basing incident in 1980, which nearly killed him, was not an accident but a suicide attempt. These tantalizing bits, however, drop in out of nowhere and, just as quickly, disappear with little or no exploration.

Meanwhile, Pryor's physical portrayals are largely one-dimensional cartoons. One exception to this is a monologue she delivers as an indomitable great-grandmother who was clearly no one to fool around with. "Richard Pryor is a kind and generous man," declares the old woman during Rain's childhood. "You can ask any hooker."

Indeed, that story is just part of Pryor's obviously fascinating but insufficiently excavated tale about the unusual women in this girl's life who raised her in the absence of her legendary father.