Actress credits fearless spirit inherited from famous father with her success
Although she grew up immersed in the industry, Rain Pryor discovered early on that Hollywood players weren’t tripping over themselves to cast someone like her in their projects.
The child of African American comedian/actor Richard Pryor and Jewish dancer Shelley Bonis, Rain says the industry has never been able to look beyond her appearance.
“I didn’t look black enough to be black; I wasn’t white enough to be white,” she said.
Some roles did come. She joined the cast of “Head of the Class” in 1989 playing tough chick “T.J.” She was also a regular on Showtime’s “Rude Awakening” and made memorable appearances on network dramas like “The Division” and “Chicago Hope.” But then came a period when her phone stopped ringing. Rather than fretting, she dug deep into her creativity.
“I was not being cast in Hollywood, so I decided to create something for myself,” she said.
That something was “Fried Chicken and Latkes,” a rollicking biographical one-woman show that has been winning over fans and critics alike for 15 years now. A longtime Off-Broadway staple, “Fried Chicken and Latkes” is making its National Black Theatre Festival debut this week, fulfilling a dream Rain’s had since 2003, when she first submitted the show for NBTF consideration.
“It wasn’t ever accepted, but this time, they called and actually invited me,” she said.
Throughout the show, Rain morphs into the people who shaped and molded her. She unabashedly lays bare racial stereotypes and cultural bias.
“Politically correct means we don’t actually want to talk about (race), but I think politically correct should be calling a spade a spade – literally, and then let’s discuss why we are calling a spade a spade. Let’s talk about that elephant in the room that is sitting there,” she said.
Rain said she inherited her father’s honesty gene, as well as his big mouth. Both traits have served her well in terms of “Fried Chicken and Latkes,” which will return to the Off-Broadway stage soon after its NBTF run.
“My dad being who he is was one who never held back the truth, so all I know how to do is that,” Rain said.
She is excited about staging her show at the NBTF, an event that has been dubbed “Black Theatre Holy Ground.” Rain is grateful that Festival organizers realized that there is room at the table for a story like hers.
“My story is a part of the African American diaspora, even though I am multi-racial, I think that is a part of who we are,” said the actress, who stays centered and grounded by embracing tenants of the African Yorùbá faith.
Rain believes her on-stage success is a ringing endorsement of self-love and self-acceptance.
“I don’t care that Hollywood says you have to be this. I am going to be who I am. Being who you are works,” she said.
When the actress is not on stage or busy raising her daughter, she carries the baton for multiple sclerosis research as an ambassador for the National MS Society. The cause is a personal one for Rain. Her father lived with MS for three decades before his 2005 death.
“For me, finding a cure is the ultimate feat,” she said. “It is something I have to do.”
“Fried Chicken and Latkes” will be staged today (Thursday, Aug. 1) at 8 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 2 at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Aug. 3 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Reese Theatre in the Embassy Suites. Tickets are $40 and available at the Benton Convention Center Box Office or at the venue prior to the show.