And while Pryor is candid about volunteering “to pimp my name” to get the shoestring troupe a little more visibility, her theater bona fides are strong. Pryor is currently enjoying off-Broadway success with her solo show “Fried Chicken and Latkes,” an autobiographical monologue with jazz music featuring Pryor’s takes on her famous father, her Jewish mother, showbiz and more.
“Fried Chicken” was not a critical hit when Pryor took the Strand job for no money earlier this year. Jayme Kilburn founded and ran the Strand as a troupe focused on women’s issues and female artists, but moved on to other pursuits. Pryor, nudged by friends, applied and was hired by the cash-strapped company, which operates on just under $30,000 a year, according to new managing director Elena Kostakis (another new hire, also volunteering, for now).
In August, Pryor’s solo show got one of those business-boosting reviews in the New York Times, which called her a “robust, ebullient performer” with “an outsize presence built for Broadway.” According to Pryor, Broadway types have since popped in to inspect the show, which is currently running Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.
Meantime, Pryor is directing the opener of the six-show season she has chosen for her Baltimore company. The play, Dylan Brody’s “Mother, May I,” began performances Thursday.
So you could say it’s complicated right now for Pryor and the Strand.
Board President Aaron Heinsman says, “She’s a mother, an artistic director and a producing artist in her own right. She’s spinning a lot of plates. So far, it’s working out.”
“She’s a force of nature,” says Kimberley Lynne, theatre events coordinator at the University of Baltimore’s Spotlight UB Performing Arts Series, where Pryor has acted and directed several times. Lynne says Pryor is scheduled to direct Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive” during the spring semester.
Underlining how hands-on the head of an emerging company with no staff or budget often has to be, Pryor greets a visitor with a shout-out from the scruffy theater’s bathroom, which she is scrubbing to a ship-shape shine.
“That’s the challenge,” the agreeable Pryor says repeatedly and in many contexts, sitting on the dining room-living room set of “Mother, May I” (which the company is billing as a “sad comedy”).
Pryor has actually been in Baltimore since 2006, when she fled Los Angeles. She had a book published that year, “Jokes My Father Never Taught Me: Life, Love and Loss with Richard Pryor” (the place to look for details of that extremely complicated relationship). Richard Pryor, who suffered from multiple sclerosis in his later years, died of a heart attack at 65 in 2005.
“My dad died, and it kind of woke me up,” says Pryor, who inherited her father’s tight smile and warm, slightly surprised eyes. “I can stay here [in L.A.] and end up like those kids of celebrity parents. But something’s going happen. Somethin’. I don’t know, but sumpn’. L.A. kind of breeds that.”