For approximately the first half of his new solo show, Not a Genuine Black Man, Brian Copeland blends thoughtfulness, gentle irony, and quiet outrage at the racism he encountered growing up in suburban, predominantly white (99.4% in the early 1970s) San Leandro, Calif. In addition, Copeland describes life with his abusive father and his mother's aspirations toward a more "white" lifestyle. Not an easy world for an 8-year-old.
Moving back and forth through time -- under Bob Balaban's easy direction and assisted by David Hines' lighting, which helps guide the audience -- Copeland's story evokes laughs, empathy, and horror.
Midway through, however, Copeland betrays a bias that irrevocably undercuts the credibility of what has preceded and particularly all that follows. He describes a trip that he and his son make to a hobby store. His son's fascination with a dollhouse leads Copeland to quip that he might need to reconsider his position on guns and toy soldiers. The implication is that he hopes his son isn't gay.
Ultimately, Copeland learns that the boy's interest is not the house but the dolls that go in it: He hopes his father will buy his sister the white ones rather than the brown ones, because another 4-year-old has told him that brown people are bad. Ironically -- and disturbingly -- Copeland displays his own prejudice: While it may not be bad, gay is clearly not desirable.
Copeland goes on to describe how what should have been the pinnacle of his adult life led to a suicide attempt, the result of years of repressed anger and confusion about his identity. He also describes at length the lawsuit his mother embarked on to stave off an illegal eviction. It's all well-delivered, but Copeland's ability to compel fully has been lost, the result of an unwitting admission of his own bias.
Presented by Daryl Roth
at the DR2 Theatre, 103 E. 15th St., NYC.
Opened May 17 for an open run. Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 and 7 p.m.
(212) 239-6200 or www.telecharge.com.