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‘Unspeakable: A Dramatic Fantasia’ shines a bright light on Richard Pryor’s life

James Murray Jackson Jr. as Richard Pryor, while E. Faye Butler and Taryn Reneau peek behind the curtain. Photo by Justin Barbin.

James Murray Jackson Jr. as Richard Pryor, while E. Faye Butler and Taryn Reneau peek behind the curtain. Photo by Justin Barbin.

After speaking with the director and writers of Unspeakable: A Dramatic Fantasia, I expected the production to be great. What was unexpected was being sucked into an interpretation of Richard Pryor’s life and getting lost in the experience.

Unspeakable: A Dramatic Fantasia is the brainchild of Rod Gailes OBC and James Murray Jackson Jr. It chronicles the life of Richard Pryor (played by James Murray Jackson Jr.) in a unique way. The production starts off with a withered Pryor hunched over in a wheel chair as an audio soundtrack of his life is being yelled to him with constant mentions of “This n—– is crazy” or Richard is that crazy n—–,” then the next scene opens with Pryor in his iconic red suit closing a stand up routine. Early on, you can tell that Jackson is working his way into the character, and by the time we come out of Pryor’s childhood it feels as though Pryor is standing right before us, alive and well.  

James Murray Jackson and Rod Gailes OBC , Writers of "Unspeakable a Dramatic Fantasia" - Photo by Eddy "Precise" Lamarre

James Murray Jackson and Rod Gailes OBC , writers of Unspeakable: A Dramatic Fantasia – Photo by Eddy “Precise” Lamarre

Pryor’s life is an open book and most accounts are well known. Seeing it all play out in front of your eyes is extremely telling and intense. Early in the production, we are introduced to Pryor in the beginning of his career when he has no problem stating that he is imitating the top black comedian at the time, Bill Cosby. He then transitions into a dream that describes Cosby in a light that is similar to current headlines.

Jackson’s performance brings to mind Jamie Foxx’s performance in Ray. He was transformed into Pryor from start to finish. This production is a trip into the complex mind of a comedic genius by way of OBC and Jackson.

Unspeakable: a Dramatic Fantasia will run through Nov. 8 at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday and the show runs 130 minutes

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The cast of Unspeakable A Dramatic Fantasia – Photo by Eddy Lamarre