San Francisco, CA, USA – If you haven’t yet seen Brian Copeland’s The Jewelry Box RUN- do not walk- to your computer right now and cue the San Francisco Playhouse website to schedule an on-demand view. Settle in with your faves for an hour of poignant humor, warmth and a reminder of why it is more than necessary to punctuate our year of toil with a return to the spirit of a child’s view of Christmas.
In this one-hour presentation, six-year-old Brian endeavors to obtain the money necessary to purchase the “perfect” Christmas gift for his mother. Copeland shines as he tells his tale as narrator, as his six-year-old self, and also as each of the other characters with great skill. “If being invited into the world of the The Jewelry Box wasn’t joyful enough,” SF Playhouse’s Bill English says, “we are treated to the virtuosic tour de force of Brian as an actor, playing (let me count them) seventeen different roles- men,women, boys, girls- with equal skill.”
“When I think of Christmas, an image comes into my head: wood,” Copeland says while in character of narrator during his production. “The velvet is cheap, the wood, fake- but to my six-year-old eyes the box is majestic.” From there he transports us back in time to the day when he was, in fact, six. He takes us on a journey to a discount store near the Oakland Coliseum. We’re with him in the 1970’s, and we’re taken along with his mother, Carolynn, his maternal grandmother, and his two sisters as they “window shop” out of necessity. It’s “Look, but don’t touch,” Copeland shares: “torture…”
The scene is set: “care free fashion wigs” are $19.97. “Mix & Match” sportswear items- including bell-bottoms- are $3.97. Rows of portable black and white TV’s are all tuned to the roller derby with “women skatin’ and fightin’- remembering ‘you’ve come a long way, baby,” as Copeland eases us further back in time and into the first scene. There’s even Candy Cane Lane with a long line of impatient children waiting to see Santa. But wait… the sound of a record needle scratching…“Santa’s not colored!” one of Copeland’s sisters wails. But this Santa, in this location, is… Copeland explains the psychic weight of Santa, sharing that “Santa threats” were a main form of coercion employed by his grandmother and mother in order to ensure good behavior. “Santa threats,” he says, “were more effective than switches…” We get an idea of what Copeland’s home life is like- and we’re plunged in.
“Then I see it,” Copeland says. It’s the jewelry box… “Can I see how much it is?” he asks with all of the child-like innocence any of us might have at age six- that is to say, without any thought that it could be beyond our means. “It’s $11.97,” he tells us. “It’s perfect — for Mom, for Christmas…” Again, the proverbial sound of record needle scratching: “Well, how you gonna pay for that, boy?” his grandmother asks. “I’ll work for the money, Grandma,” Copeland tells her, every bit the six-year-old in that moment. “I’ll get a job.” He begins by telling us he got his hands on a copy of the newspaper “Classified’s” and then feels compelled to explain: “Classifieds,” he quips in narration, “were like Craig’s List you could hold in your hand… for you kids watching…
And that’s the moment we’re even more than hooked: we need to see this little boy succeed- in whatever he wishes to do, but most especially in getting that special gift he wants to give to a mama that has, as we’ll later discover, a very sad story.
Throughout the play we’re acquainted with the details of Copeland’s rich life: He’s moved four times- Akron, Ft Hood, Berkeley, to East Oakland. This makes this gift choice even that much more valuable. “My mother,” he says in narration, “had left behind her jewelry box…her costume jewelry was strewn all across her dresser now.” Six-year-old Copeland just knows that a jewelry box would be the best gift- ever– for his mother. As the story moves on, we see six-year-old Copeland embark upon work-finding ventures ranging from the ridiculous to the industrious. We’re even more invested than we realize and, if not careful, we may find ourselves completely lost in the story and even projecting our own stories into it. Ah, this is the beauty of Copeland’s masterful storytelling. But the details of Copeland’s early life are sufficiently noteworthy, and our attention is so riveted to what’s going to happen next, from wild-and-crazy conversations with drunk men on the street, to confrontations by Copeland’s problematic father, that we stay on track. And we cheer…
We cheer Copeland as his grandmother comes alongside him in the funniest of ways to help with his quest, and we cheer when we see small successes. And then, well, then we might even cry when things take a turn that is a surprise… “Over $1 short and I was out of ideas,” Copeland narrates as his story is marching on to the second day before Christmas… “I even tried to get a loan at Crocker Bank,” he quips, “but they told me to come back with some collateral. I didn’t even know what that was…”
Through all of this, Copeland’s telling a story set in a world of children growing up in a neighborhood in which, if you didn’t pay your rent, the landlord could come and take off your front door- even in the winter, even in the rain, and even at Christmas. But we’re reminded to see things through the eyes of six-year-old Copeland– eyes filled with wonder of the season- and with a heart focused on pleasing his mother and the will to adjust everything he does to make this dream for his mother come true.
“That’s one of the benefits of being six years old,” Copeland says, “you actually believe that the world will, somehow, be just.” Whether “just” or not must be evaluated by each viewer. Suffice to say, this gem of a show is the most engaging and fastest flying one-hour performance, ever, as Copeland’s genius helps us ponder that statement.
“More than ten years ago,” Bill English says in the program notes, “our late amazing publicist, Anne Abrams, introduced us to Brian Copeland and got me on his weekly radio show to promote our plays. She also encouraged us to take a look at a new solo show he was developing, The Jewelry Box.” English says he thought the show would be a “natural holiday classic,” however at that time SF Playhouse was focused on the production of larger cast shows. The pandemic, however, created a call for smaller productions. In this particular case, we’re more than grateful for this one “silver lining” arising from the pandemic.
The Jewelry Box, written and performed by Brian Copeland and developed by David Ford and Brian Copeland runs in memory of our beloved Anne Abrams until December 25th. It is worth seeing any time of year, however it is most poignant and touching at the holiday season- the time when we are most reminded of the need to see the world through the eyes of and with the wonder of a child. Do Not Miss This.
Text ©2020 Michele Caprario Photos from Brian Copeland press room
What You Need to Know:
THE PLAY: The Jewelry Box Written and performed by Brian Copeland
Developed by David Ford and Brian Copeland
Directed by David Ford
In this hilariously heartwarming story, a prequel to Copeland’s hit solo show Not a Genuine Black Man, a young Brian heads to the “mean streets” of Oakland to buy his mom a Christmas present. When he finds the perfect gift – a jewelry box in the White Front store – six-year-old Brian sets out to earn the required $11.97 by Christmas Eve.
WHEN: Available on-demand November 28 through December 25, 2020
Virtual Opening Night Gala: Saturday, November 28, 2020 at 7:00 P.M. PST
WHERE: Streaming video at sfplayhouse.org (tickets required)
TICKETS: For tickets ($15 – $100) or more information, the public may contact the San Francisco Playhouse box office at 415-677-9596, or online at https://www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/2020-2021-season/the-jewelry-box/
About Brian Copeland*
Brian Copeland is an award-winning actor, comedian, author, playwright, television and radio talk show host based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He began his career in standup at the tender age of 18 performing in comedy venues in San Francisco. Soon he was traveling the country opening for such legendary performers as Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Ray Charles, The Temptations, Natalie Cole, Julio Iglesias, Ringo Starr and Gladys Knight. Copeland performed his brand of biting, cutting edge social commentary in venues including the Universal Amphitheater and Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. In 2004, Copeland debuted his first one-man play, Not a Genuine Black Man at the Marsh in San Francisco. The play explored his childhood experiences as a member of one of the only African American families living in the then 94% white suburb of San Leandro, California. His tale of laughter, tears, and sociology went on to become the longest-running solo show in San Francisco theatrical history with over 800 performances. The show has been performed in over 30 cities, including a critically acclaimed run Off-Broadway. The play is currently in television series development. In 2006, Copeland published a best-selling book based on Genuine that is now required reading in several high schools and colleges across the country. The book was the 2009 pick for Silicon Valley Reads, a library-based program in which all of Santa Clara County reads the same book simultaneously. To date, he has written and performed three subsequent critically acclaimed solo plays including The Waiting Period (2015 Theater Bay Area Award for Outstanding Production of a Solo Play), the hit Christmas show The Jewelry Box and The Scion (PBS affiliate KQED’s Best New Play of 2014). His new play, Grandma & Me: An Ode to Single Parents, debuted in 2019. In 2021, Brian can be seen in a production of his new solo play Grandma & Me and in the Sony motion picture VENOM 2. In addition to his stage work, Copeland is a fixture in Bay Area broadcasting, where he has hosted programs on just about every television station, including KTVU (a five-year stint as co-host of Mornings on 2), ABC7 (host of the Emmy award-winning 7Live) and KNTV (the hit 2015 late night special Now Brian Copeland). He has also performed on MTV, A&E, NBC, VH1 and Comedy Central. In 2006, Director Rob Reiner (a fan of Genuine) cast Copeland as Lee Chambers, the youngest son of Morgan Freeman, in the instant classic, The Bucket List. A lifelong fan and listener of legendary Bay Area radio station KGO, Copeland was thrilled to become a substitute talk show host for the station beginning in 1991. In 1994, The Brian Copeland Show debuted as a weekend program that spent years as the most listened to radio show in its time slot. In the mid 2000s, Copeland did a weekly commentary feature for the station called Copeland’s Corner. The segment was honored with awards from the Radio Television News Directors Association and the Associated Press. Brian Copeland lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
About San Francisco Playhouse
Founded by Bill English and Susi Damilano in 2003, San Francisco Playhouse has been described by the New York Times as “a company that stages some of the most consistently high-quality work around” and deemed “ever adventurous” by the Bay Area News Group. Located in the heart of the Union Square Theater District, San Francisco Playhouse is the city’s premier Off-Broadway company, an intimate alternative to the larger more traditional Union Square theater fare. San Francisco Playhouse provides audiences the opportunity to experience professional theater with top-notch actors and world-class design in a setting where they are close to the action. The company has received multiple awards for overall productions, acting, and design, including the SF Weekly Best Theatre Award and the Bay Guardian’s Best Off-Broadway Theatre Award, as well as three consecutive Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards for Best Entire Production in the Bay Area (2016-2018). KQED/NPR recently described the company: “San Francisco Playhouse is one of the few theaters in the Bay Area that has a mission that actually shows up on stage. Artistic director Bill English’s commitment to empathy as a guiding philosophical and aesthetic force is admirable and by living that mission, fascinating things happen onstage.” San Francisco Playhouse is committed to providing a creative home and inspiring environment where actors, directors, writers, designers, and theater lovers converge to create and experience dramatic works that celebrate the human spirit.**
*Text courtesy of SF Playhouse
**Text courtesy of SF Playhouse