Playwright: Rod Gailes OBC and James Murray Jackson, Jr. At: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St. Tickets: 800-775-2000; www.BroadwayInChicago.com; $35-$79. . Runs through: Oct. 25
Richard Pryor is regarded as one of the greatest comedians of all time. So why on earth would Unspeakable make his performance so un-laughable? The producers were not able to obtain the rights to Pryor's stand-up segments, which makes things difficult, although they could've worked around that setback. The writers made his persona unlikable, which is where this production quickly fell flat.
For the Chicago premiere, guests packed the Broadway Playhousebut then almost half were gone by the end of the evening. There were mounds of cocaine, a totem puppet and the N-word used to shock people, but that is most likely not the reason people left. There are just not many entertaining or enjoyable moments for an audience member.
There was a Gaga-esque character who taunted him throughout the show, hammering the audience over the head that Pryor was wrestling with demons. He was a tortured soulwe get it. E. Faye Butler, who was recently seen at the Goodman, doesn't receive the range she deserves as Mama. James Murray Jackson Jr. resembles Pryor, but his mannerisms and hand jives are simply a caricature at times. There are strange transitions throughout the show where the cast mainly performs an acting exercise with chanting and bad choreography.
When characters are on the microphone, why not use a sound change to show that? There were many missed opportunities. The set is covered with expletives shown as $%#, but the space is not used well and it is awkward.
A fantasy of the afterlife of Richard is shown at the end that does nothing to tie up the story or give him a shot of redemption. It is a shame that the people who loved Pryor can't give him the proper send off with this missed opportunity.
After interviewing Richard Pryor Jr. in the past for Windy City Times, I wondered what he would have thought of the show. There is nothing to draw LGBT audiences into Unspeakable unless they just love Richie himself and are curious. There is a moment where Pryor teases a male at a party about fellatio. It is uncomfortable and more about paying forward the abuse heaped on the man over the years.
Lee Daniels is currently developing a biopic about Richard Pryor's life starring Mike Epps and Oprah Winfrey. Hopefully, he can learn from shows like this on what things to focus onor what not towhile depicting a comedian's sad life.