Produced by: The Marsh San Francisco
Featuring: Brian Copeland
Directed by: David Ford
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays; 5 p.m. Saturdays; November 1-December 28, 2013
Where: The Marsh San Francisco Main Stage,1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco, California.
Tickets: $15-$40 sliding scale, $60-$100 reserved. Visit www.themarsh.org or call 415-282-3055.
premieres: 'The Jewelry Box'
in 1970 to tell an ageless tale
It was the climax, a touching, emotional moment. Brian Copeland, his eyes moist, only six years old, looking into his mother’s eyes, having an epiphany. Christmas was not about money or material gifts.
It’s all about the heart.
"The Jewelry Box," a play by Brian Copeland, is a simple, straightforward show that left the audience in tears. It’s a one-man play, featuring Copeland himself, telling his story about Oakland during Christmas in 1970.
Its world premiere is on stage at the Marsh San Francisco through December 28, 2013.
Copeland wastes no time taking us down memory lane. For those old enough to remember Oakland in 1970, there was once a store on Hegenberger Road called White Front. White Front was a precursor to the big-box stores, the progenitor of K-Mart. Copeland takes us down lanes filled with bright shiny merchandise, setting the scene economically by telling us the prices $12 for toasters, $3 for trousers and then he sees it, just past Candy Cane Lane.
The Jewelry Box.
Copeland tells us that as a youngster, his family moved a lot. And each time they were forced to leave things behind. His mother had lost her jewelry box and was laying her costume jewelry across her dresser. It was Christmas, and little, six-year-old Brian knew what he wanted for Christmas. He checks the price of the box: $11.97. His grandmother scoffs at the price. But that does not dissuade Brian. I will earn it, Brian thinks to himself. He only has a week.
This selfless wish sets into motion a hilarious, emotional story that sees six-year-old Brian seeking a jobs on the mean streets of Oakland. Ambitious, he reads the want ads, collects bottles, works in the kitchen of a convalescent hospital, and fetches information for two men engaged in a debate over the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Brian slowly earns the money to buy the gift by Christmas Eve.
Brian’s odyssey is deftly rendered by Copeland, who engages the audience with his voice, diction, and syntax to render each character with a touching humanity. Everyone comes alive: his grandma, his mother, the owner of a used-car lot, and the two drunks who are a Greek chorus, of sorts. Copeland’s collaboration with director David Ford put everyone on the same emotional roller-coaster ridden by little six-year-old Brian. Copeland also effectively took advantage of the entire stage space, and the narrative was well-written and rich enough to allow the audience to follow the story. The detail is woven seamlessly into Copeland’s delivery; the audience saw the jewelry box in his hand, and jumped when his grandmother’s hand slapped Copeland’s, making him put it back on the store shelf.
Copeland is no stranger to the San Francisco Bay Area entertainment scene. He was host on the KTVU breakfast program Mornings on 2, and in 1995 hosted the KGO Radio show The Brian Copeland Show. He is also an established playwright: "Not A Genuine Black Man," "The Waiting Period," "The Scion."
"The Jewelry Box" features two wonderful subplots that unfold in the background, and at the climax, 70 minutes later, the plots all come into full bloom. It’s a poignant ending. It’s bound to become a classic, a time capsule, celebrating a time that is long gone in the East Bay, in an age of innocence at Christmas.
"The Jewelry Box" contains a precious treasure. The best part? The audience took a piece of it home in their hearts.