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Reprinted with permission of j. the Jewish news weekly of northern California.
To be young, gifted and black. And Jewish. That's Rain Pryor, the daughter of a Jewish mother and African American comedy legend Richard Pryor. Not surprisingly, Rain Pryor, 35, inherited a good measure of her father's talent. She's been a busy L.A.-based singer and actress for years, playing TJ on Head of the Class and Jackie, the lesbian drug addict, on Showtime's Rude Awakening.
But closest to Pryor's heart now is her one-woman show, Fried Chicken & Latkes, a musical autobiography that has earned rave reviews in Southern California. Pryor brings the show north Dec. 4 to San Rafael and Dec. 5 to San Mateo for performances sponsored by the Osher Marin and Peninsula Jewish community centers.
"The show is very Jewish," says Pryor in a phone interview from her L.A. home. "My opening song is "What's the Big Deal if I'm Black and a Jew?" You see both worlds."
In one of those worlds, she was a child of privilege, raised by her Jewish mother in the insulated comfort of Beverly Hills. In the other, she was the daughter of a living legend, though a self-destructive one. She saw her father at his best enthralling audiences with his comic genius and at his worst, succumbing to a variety of dangerous drug addictions.
"Growing up with a parent that was always addicted to something, there was a sense of feeling powerless," she recalls. "I wanted to control it."
Today, Richard Pryor is in a wheelchair with an advanced case of multiple sclerosis, and Rain remains close to him.
Her mother, an astronomy lecturer, brought little Judaism or Jewish culture into the home. However, her maternal grandmother bequeathed plenty of Yiddishkeit to her granddaughter.
"She spoke some Yiddish and introduced me to Jewish foods and the holidays," Pryor remembers. "Today, I speak better Hebrew than she does." In fact, she observes Shabbat together with her husband of three years, Kevin Kindlin. A psychotherapist and a non-Jew, Kindlin encouraged Pryor to create a musical show about her own life.
"When we were dating, I was doing a cabaret act," she recalls. "He said, 'The only way I will marry you is if you pursue your dream.' He made sure I started working on it."
With as unusual a background as hers, Pryor had no shortage of material to draw on. The show, which she calls a work in progress, uses music, comedy and pathos to describe a lifelong bicultural balancing act.
The show premiered at a Beverly Hills theater three years ago. The upcoming San Francisco dates mark the Bay Area premiere of "Fried Chicken & Latkes." Pryor's aim is to take the show to New York and eventually make a film version. Meanwhile, she is a spokesperson for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. (She has detected some early warning signs that she may have the disease, but it's too soon to tell.)
"When it's warm, everything hurts," she says. "I don't know if it's M.S. But I found the healing arts. Massage therapy, yoga, I found they helped me in my life."
Despite her medical concerns, Pryor exudes a sunny side. In addition to her show, she's also thrilled to have connected in recent years with several half-siblings, all the children of Richard Pryor, and several of them also the offspring of Jewish mothers.
"My dad had a thing for Jewish women," says Pryor with a laugh. "We're all close. For last Rosh Hashanah, we all got together. We're keeping up the traditions."