Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
In December 1970 young Brian arrives with his mom, grandma, and three sisters in Oakland, their fourth move of the year across the country, having left more and more possessions behind at each stop along the way. Brian knows his mom no longer has anywhere to keep her the costume jewelry she so loves, and he is determined to remedy that once he happens to eye the most luxurious jewelry box he can imagine (at least in his first-grade opinion). As he now tells us just how he goes about raising that immense sum of $11.97, we get to meet, through him, his immediate and extended family and many other unique members of a neighborhood he describes as "bad enough then but more like Afghanistan today." Whenever quoting his mother, the voice we hear is silky soft and most tender; his grandmother, richly deep with a rough edge of sage and sass; his own, a high puerile pitch delivered always with a head cocked upward toward some unseen adult. But when he remembers his wandering, here-today/thankfully-gone-tomorrow dad, his demeanor darkens with the stench of cheap cigarettes and his voice slurs the mean and mad words emitting from another can of PBR.
The audacity of this young kid passing by a local grocery and liquor store dressed to the nines is not missed by two old codgers who begin to address him as "Mr. President." Spending their day passing a brown paper bag back and forth while reveling in their arguments and insults ("You are so cheap that you look over your glasses to keep from wearing them out"), even they get into the act of hiring the young boy for a few coins to head to the library to settle one of their ongoing arguments. We also learn how a number of other, hard-nosed types are touched to help this eager entrepreneur; and we listen as he counts each night his mounting moneys, dumped out of the Easter bunny-turned-bank his grandma made him.
Brian Copeland not only captures in his unique voice and body manipulations the nuances of each remembered character of his story, but he also finds in many a memory something that is clearly still core to who he is today. While he laughs shaking his head that "Grandma could pinch a penny until Lincoln had a hemorrhage," her generosity of unexpressed, quiet love shows each time he brings her to life for us. Other memories of a penny-pinching landlord's big-hearted wife ("a princess in pink bathrobe") or a young classroom aide who steps in to keep a sobbing boy's heart from totally breaking are pictured with heartwarming details before us.
Directed by David Ford with sound and lighting designed by Erich Blazeski, Brian Copeland's The Jewelry Box is a present waiting to be opened this holiday season.
The Jewelry Box continues through December 19, 2015, at The Marsh, San Francisco (1062 Valencia Street), running Fridays at 8 pm and Saturdays at 5 & 8 pm Tickets are available at http://themarsh.org.