Brian Copeland’s gem, “The Jewelry Box”, opened at The Marsh in the Mission District of San Francisco, his new solo show an offering of a modest and humble Christmas gift. It’s a down-to-Earth, genuine and ingratiating original especially for those who appreciate a quiet, personal alternative, something one would enjoy around the fireplace on Christmas Eve as told by a father or grandfather. It’s blessed relief for another lonely or disappointing holiday season. The show runs a quick and engaging 70 minutes with no intermission and makes a nice stocking stuffer.
Brian Copeland plays all the characters from his Christmas when he was a precocious six year old, so he’s a one-man band of a cast full of locals. He encounters various colorful characters with a six year old’s innocence as he tries frantically and resourcefully to raise $11.97 for a shiny jewelry box for his mother for Christmas. It would sooth her soul as her jewelry box is something that got lost in their moves from Ohio to Texas to East Oakland, trying to get away from Sylvester, a sorry excuse for a father.
Six year old Brian suits up, puts on his Sunday best and goes out into the adult world of East Oakland to earn, not just find, the fortune it will take to give his mother a merry Christmas. Copeland becomes the pair of drunks outside the liquor store who love to debate sports; He’s the car salesman; He’s Grandma; He’s the landlord’s pretty and kind young wife; The cheap cranky landlord; His kind and gentle teacher who will hear the entire saga; He’s his own kind and gentle mother. It’s all quite engaging. It’s a family friendly story, rated G, even with the trials he goes through since a six year old generally doesn’t use foul language and get away with it so this story has nothing offensive in it.
Whether you are Black or White, if you are a real Bay Area local or of a certain age, this one man band of a show resonates particularly well. Copeland says the locations and people no longer exist as it was 40 years ago but the items and prices he talks about are real. Mary the librarian at San Leandro’s main library helped him with the research. Mary, he says, found him the exact advertising page from the family shopping day in question.
We who come from what we call The Manor in San Leandro, not Brian’s neighborhood but his city, love nostalgia and reminiscing about television shows and old stores we grew up with. San Leandro had a 1950s strip for cruising on Friday nights, a drive-in theater, a roller skating rink. Just about the only thing remaining is Porky’s Pizza Palace which just celebrated its fifty year anniversary. Even though we grew up in the 70s we led a sheltered 1950s life where we had the same kids with us our entire childhood, riding bicycles and looking for frogs in the creek or perhaps streaking.
A few years back Brian’s son Adam worked at Sabino’s cafe and Brian would come in and take a corner table with is laptop. He was working on his HBO special at the time. Once he pulled up in his shiny red convertible, a vintage Mustang, with a journalist in the passenger seat.
So Brian hits that nerve of nostalgia and childhood memories immediately, beginning his story with a family trip before Christmas in 1970 to White Front albeit in East Oakland. Not that Black Friday is too rough but he also reminisced comically about being six years old while watching Roller Derby, white women skating around a rink at high speed and fighting.
Some in San Leandro where Brian lives as an adult and the father of Adam, Carolyn and Casey, continue to feel a sting and discomfort about some of Copeland’s racial observations in general as it’s taken personally. However. The jewelry box is judgment free, his is a personal story that’s more universal especially if you have a troubled family history or no money or suffer from depression . . . but have the gift of resourcefulness and the simple ability to act out of love.
Oddly, Copeland with “The Jewelry Box” gives a feeling of validation and inclusion to the disenfranchised. He reminds me of something a former lover in New Orleans told me when his estranged mother was dying. He recalled rare and comforting words of wisdom she had told him in his youth, she as the mother of about nine or was it eleven children, he being the last and the product of a marriage of a Catholic widow and a Catholic widower. It’s this: Even if you are unhappy yourself, you can bring happiness to others.
“The Jewelry Box” runs to December 28, 2013.
www.TheMarsh.org or (415) 282-3055
The Marsh Theater, The Mission District, 1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco.
Tickets $15-$100. Shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
“The Scion” also set in San Leandro opens in January.
For more stories by this writer check out CBS San Francisco’s website under Eye on the Bay, San Francisco arts & culture “Best Of”; and San Francisco Arts & Culture on warptown.com. Subscribe by hitting the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of this article.
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