Spoiler Alert! The Playwright Does Not Kill Himself
Eight years ago, Brian Copeland debuted his one man play, Not a Genuine Black Man at the Marsh theater in the Mission. Kudos ensued. What was scheduled to be a 6-week run became the longest running solo show in San Francisco history.
So, many who loved the show have been anticipating Copeland's sophomore solo performance, which opened Saturday at the Marsh.
It's title, The Waiting Period, refers to the 10 days Copeland was required to wait before his gun license cleared. It refers to the 10 days Copeland needed to wait before he could commit suicide.
It's a great structural concept for theater -- an autobiographical clock-ticking countdown to a life or death choice.
Like Not A Genuine Black Man, this is a play born of a distinctive experience with true human interest.
Last time, Copeland wrote about his childhood in the 99.4% white San Leandro and his adulthood as a man accused of not being black enough. A radio personality at KGO, (now a TV host of 7 Live), Copeland had received a letter -- the umpteenth of its kind -- accusing him of not being "a genuine black man." He knew this would be his subject when comedy maestro Carl Reiner imparted a bit of writing advice to Copeland; "find the piece of ground that you alone stand on, and write from there."
Copeland's singular story started in 1972, when, at age 8, his family moved to San Leandro, which had recently been named one of the country's most racist suburbs. His account of his experiences with racism, police harassment and housing discrimination was historically illuminating, funny and dare I say, poignant.
The new show is likewise intrinsically interesting. And potentially poignant; what does one do during the 240 hours when one is waiting to kill oneself?
Copeland tells us, more or less, what he did do -- and what he made his kids for dinner. (Spoiler Alert: Chinese take-out.) His persona is affable and familiar and he has an easy, appealing humor. This in itself goes a long way to win the audience. But his articulation of what he thought and felt during those 10 days is too often too vague.
Certainly there's an unique challenge in crafting a play about emotional numbness. But if one is going to write from a particular piece of ground that he alone stands on, particularity is key. Copeland's goal of explicitly conveying the universality of his experience muddies his ground.
He shifts to other people's ground in his effort to bring light to this dark place, to the subject of depression and suicide. On a number of occasions he refers to people who are "one of us" -- they are part of an unseen community of dangerously despairing people.
In between quite a few warmly amusing scenes (he's clueless at the gun shop, requesting a revolver because he knows its name from the Beatles album), the play slips into an earnest P.S.A.-type inspirational speech.
In fact, the performance I attended was a benefit for Bring Change 2 Mind, a non-profit that focuses on the stigma of mental illness. And the monologue works very well as a companion to this group's mission.
At times in the play, Copeland reflects the experiences of some suicidal young people who he had interviewed. He performs their interviews Anna Deavere Smith-style, presenting the character verbatim.
He also plays his daughter, who is really worried about him. And we become really worried about her. Her fear and stress are well-conveyed even tough Copeland's gift for playing anyone other than himself (particularly kids) is somewhat lacking.
I'd like to have heard more about his kids, and the wife who left him, and the people he is planning to leave. In The Waiting Period, context and storytelling are a bit wanting. And while the 10 day time-frame is precise, the experience itself is sharp but not vivid.
The Waiting Period runs through Marsh 24, 2012 at The Marsh in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit themarsh.org.
More on Performance
Theater Review | Apr 15, 2014
Martin Luther, Hamlet and Doctor Faustus prove an irresistible combination for a college comedy. By Sam Hurwitt
Multimedia | Apr 14, 2014
Sometimes it's OK to wait for the bugs to get worked out before jumping into new tech. By Emily Eifler
Music | Apr 14, 2014
If I could use only one word to describe the 2014 edition of the Napa Valley wine, food and rock festival's eclectic rundown of artists (based on the opinions I've heard voiced and, to a lesser extent, my own) it would be: huh? By T.J. Mimbs
Literature | Apr 13, 2014
Author and illustrator Maira Kalman latest book, Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything, is a whimsical and hypnotic look into one Founding Father's life and accomplishments. By Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Performance | Apr 12, 2014
Last month, Sean Keane, one of San Francisco's top standup comedians, announced that he is moving to Los Angeles in May. Before letting him board that 'Greyhound of the Skies' flight to Bob Hope Airport, it seemed only fitting to subject him to that most ignominious of employment traditions: the exit interview. By Anthony Bedard
Shakespeare's Globe Theater aims to take the Bard's iconic play to every country in the world. It will perform everywhere from prestigious theaters to Pacific island beaches.
Many comedians think that explaining jokes ruins jokes, but Hari Kondabolu doesn't mind. Especially when it comes to jokes about race and ethnicity, he's willing to explain until everyone gets it.
Harry Potter no longer, Daniel Radcliffe spends considerable time devoted to the stage. His latest Broadway role is in the Cripple of Inishmaan, a dark comedy about an isolated Irish community.
"All of us have chased the American dream so there's something very universal about it," the Irish actor says. O'Dowd and James Franco star in a new Broadway production of Steinbeck's novella.
Also on KQED.org this week ...
KQED Celebrates the Earth
April 22 is Earth Day, but KQED is celebrating our planet all month long. Tune in for special programs, attend special events, and find more resources online.
Where's the Rain?
KQED covers news about California's drought, offers water-saving tips, and more.