at Studio 250 at the Off-Market Theaters
965 Mission Street
I walked into Not a Genuine Black Man expecting a comedy monologue. And, the show is very funny.
But it is also painful. Difficult. Icky.
Brian Copeland drives a two-hour roller-coaster solo performance full of fun, fear, and Issues. He acts and mimics just fine, but the power of the performance is in the story. It’s Brian’s story of growing up in 99.99% white San Leandro. Purer than Ivory Snow, he notes, getting us to laugh. And, then he drops us hard with vignettes of frightened neighbors and his abusive father.
You find yourself snickering of the image of a big, grown white police officer patting down an 8-year-old boy for weapons… after the boy had run screaming to the cop for help against a gang of white kids who were going to beat him up. Then you’re badly uncomfortable for giggling, for understanding what had just happened to 8-year-old Brian.
I’m no black man. So, cops, landlords, and the kids at my new schools didn’t start off driven to hatred. My family didn’t have to cope with eviction and a slew of frightened neighbors. TV, schools, and the cultural narrative reinforced that the world belonged to me and my kind.
Yet, the story isn’t something safely remote, suitable for leisurely study in the National Geographic. Would it were.
Brian’s abusive father was Sylvester. My abusive step father was Clarence. My family, too, had breakups when Mother swore he was gone forever. But, then he’d promise to reform, or she’d run out of money, and we would be a “family” again. For two years after he died emaciated from lung cancer I’d wake up in a cold sweat dreaming that he was breaking in the front door. Again. Clarence and Sylvester were from different races, maybe. But, mine was also from Alabama, so maybe not.
I grew up being very careful not to turn blue, to use Harvey Milk’s phrase. For the most part I passed, and I escaped violence and credible threats. But, television and politicians and the culture told me I was bad. A degenerate. Doomed to loneliness and unhappiness. I couldn’t even talk to Mother or friends about this disgrace. So, I was a high yellow faggot with no fascination for musicals or fashion, and I passed for straight.
Not a Genuine Black Man is definitely about race. But, it’s also about growing up, fear, dealing, not dealing, and living.
The show is a wicked, disturbing story and performance. Worth seeing. With at least one friend.