Earth Day wasn't meant to be just a day of special import, but as many such special days it was and is an opportunity to celebrate the importance of uniting to appreciate and heal the planet that is presently our home. In this spirit, I write the day after an event I experienced on April 22, one that gives a meaning to both Earth Day and all the days following -- in ways that I never would have anticipated.
Rain Pryor, the daughter of the late icon, comedian, drug abuser and phenomenally incorrect and brilliant Richard Pryor, did a one woman show entitled "Fried Chicken and Latkes" on Off Broadway for one weekend. And I, happening to catch bits of an interview with some schtick included, jumped off my exercise bike to catch a few tickets.
Jewish and black, and owning them both -- wow. Funny, no doubt and that could be gleaned from the small segment on television. What couldn't come into focus or translation was the tragedy in between the spaces of accents and characters performed sans costume change. By the end of the show, the afternoon's meaning was nothing less than a profound contribution to the possibility of peace, not for a day or a minute or a tribe or a nation but for all of us any day of any year.
By doing excavations of her own psyche, with the one and only magical and yet so often absent and self-centered father, and her mother who was not only a Jew but a white woman who identified and often played out her passions for justice and freedom as a white-turned-black in feeling style, Rain comes to some peace of her own. But not only that.
It's one thing to give us the history, and another thing to give us the entertainment to go with it to get us to the history with flair and flavor, replete with impeccable accents that get us to travel from time to other time and from race to other race. But the amazing grace of all this is that we aren't left only with the miracle of this young woman being a true survivor. We are left also with hope for our own realization of peace.
This might be sounding melodramatic and even maudlin by now. But although the drama runs thick, the piece never becomes maudlin. Besides, Rain leaves us with a dare that not many people would dare -- pardon the pun -- at this point in time.
In a time when racial tensions run high, and ethnic identifications, offenses and defenses seem almost to be "in," this woman, Rain Pryor, dares to say that -- please listen up -- "Race is bullshit".
This deserves its own paragraph and a repetition, since yes, Rain Pryor -- after giving us all the divided parts of herself and showing us just how meaningful they are to her identity, comes to identity based on authenticity and birth. She says, bottom line, that "we are divided by cultures and by religion" and in the conversation I had with her after the performance, she made clear that she is not on any side of the human equation: rather she is on the side of being human and of caring.
Rain Pryor does that thing I happen to love, which I also favor as a healing mechanism. She owns with mixtures of anger, pain and, and humor -- without which the pain might in fact be lethal -- the deep effects the key people in her world have had on her. One leaves the theater feeling she has seen her varied people in their glory and their magic -- in their nakedness and in her own -- and in the end without ejecting them from her psyche or her being.
What she has done instead is to find the possibility for a quest to start her own life -- without shunning her past or any parts of her essence including her love or her disappointment for a father so great but so young emotionally and so in need of parenting himself. She carries this baggage with her, transforming it with her wit and her richly textured voice -- with her zest that is as true as any of the pain or the glory of anyone in her life. Yes, you feel they all, of course including Richard Pryor, made her what she is today, but so did her own passion for being true to her feelings -- all of them, and literally the black and the white ones both intensely.
In this time when white people reject white people over issues of sexuality, religious beliefs or the lack thereof, Rain Pryor teaches without preaching. She models what peace can be, but not the quiet peace of resignation and not the certain piece of pious faith either.
With the help of the producer Daryl Sledge who saw a performance in Baltimore and asked Rain what her dream was, she was helped to get it come true, so I thank them both for getting it to Off Broadway, from where no doubt it should travel.
Don't get me wrong, there is plenty to laugh about here, even to howl out loud about, black or white and perhaps particularly black or Jewish. But we take away what we take away, and for me in the end it was how moving the journey has been and how moving the person who brought it to the audience was and is.
She, Rain, is a survivor, and I pray in my own agnostic way, that we can take the gifts of the likes of Rain and others, to make Earth Day and the days after, ones where we can start to risk our own revolution. And by that I mean the courage to say race is a part of life, but not the defining element.
If we don't heed that call, we will remain forever too divided to change anything of meaning.
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