It’s an annual holiday offering, Brian Copeland’s charming one-man show at The Marsh in San Francisco.
“The Jewelry Box’’ takes Copeland back to his rough early years in East Oakland. The family has finally settled down after many moves, and the 6-year-old is determined to replace the jewelry box his mother had to leave behind during one of the moves.
The thing is, he has to raise precisely $11.97 to buy one.
What can a 6-year-old do? He sees an ad for a car salesman, puts on his Sunday suit and applies for a job.
The car dealer treats him with dead seriousness and pays him a few dollars to run some errands around the place.
Clutching his pay in his hand, he takes on a number of other odd jobs, learns a lot about generosity and stinginess and what it takes to be a human being, and a lot of other things along the way, and eventually earns what he needs.
The show, developed by David Frost, is bittersweet and hilarious by turns, and Copeland is a master of dialect; his deep, luminous baritone runs the gamut of voices, ages and attitudes.
Copeland captures perfectly the rich speech of uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors, his mama and grandmother, the shopkeeper, the two men who argue constantly on the boulevard, and the quizzical 6-year old who is trying to make sense of things.
For instance, he asks: Why isn’t Santa black? Why is his mother so prim? (“If he says ‘ain’t,’ she hears the F-word.’’) And why did his father abandon the family years back?
The father returns during the play, with devastating effects, and the young Brian has a lot to question about his actions.
His quick-tempered grandmother is central to his story too. In one scene, he helps her serve a meal at the nursing home where she works and learns about tough love and survival.
‘Fool La La: Once Upon a Mind’ in Berkeley
This may be the family Christmas story not to miss, but the Marsh has another winning holiday show: “Fool La La: Once Upon a Mind.’’ This one is highly recommend for children of all ages (“The Jewelry Box” is best for teenagers).
Unique Derique, who goes by the name “Clown Prince,’’ is an expert storyteller, running through hilarious life episodes that need no verbal explanation. His clownness is to the fore, and he masters every small gesture with warmth and drama.
Derique studied at Berkeley’s Circus A La Mode and the Pickle Family Circus, and has performed with Sammy Davis Jr., the Temptations, and Lou Rawls, among others.
This fast-paced, try-to-be high-tech performance, which will be shown at The Marsh Berkeley, is a breathtaking exploration of life’s smallest joys and sorrows.