12:27 AM CDT, July 26, 2012
A commercial show — with Broadway aspirations — inspired by the life and work of the late comedian Richard Pryor is to be staged this fall at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago, with the TV and movie actor Isaiah Washington in a leading role.
Titled “Unspeakable” and starring James Murray Jackson Jr. as the Peoria-born comedian, the show is executive produced by Susan Batson, one of the main producers of Kenny Leon’s 2004 Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Washington, who has not been on a Chicago stage before and is best known for his work on television’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” plays Paul Moody, one of Pryor’s friends. “Unspeakable,” directed by Rod Gailes , is slated to play the mainstage of the Royal George, 1641 N. Halsted St., from Oct. 2 to Nov. 25. Tickets are on sale Aug. 17.
An earlier and smaller version of the biographical show, without Washington but with the well-reviewed Jackson, played the New York International Fringe Festival in 2005. There have several staged readings and revisions in the interim, some involving Washington. Although not billed as a comedy, “Unspeakable” invokes some of Pryor’s famous comedic routines. There is a cast of seven.
Pryor, a ground-breaking comic who died in 2005 at the age of 65, certainly has a dramatic life story, including a rough childhood spent in his grandmother’s Peoria brothel, formative years spent among the radicals and revolutionaries of the late 1960s, seven marriages, a drug habit, and a famously close and complex relationship with a common racial epithet. He also was the first African-American to host the TV show “Saturday Night Live.”