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Friday, April 25, 2014

"Not a Genuine Black Man": A Compelling One-Man Play

Posted By on Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 11:53 AM

  • Joan Marcus

Two hours is a long time to watch a one-man show, unless that one man is very, very good at what he's doing. And for the past decade, Brian Copeland has been honing "Not a Genuine Black Man," his own story of growing up in 1970s San Leandro.

The evening gives us a sense of the area at that time: a 99 percent white city where property owners were sometimes barred from selling to African Americans. "Too black" for San Leandro and "too white" as a result of growing up there, Copeland wrote and stars in his play around the question: Is he black enough?

Ten years and a whopping 700 performances later, "Not A Genuine Black Man" continues, making it the longest-running solo show in Bay Area history. And it's not really hard to see why -- Copeland has that special blend of comedy and drama; his show is amusing and ardent.

Most interesting, though, were the very distinct cast of characters. Copeland played them all, of course, but at times it seemed as if he was supported by an entire crew -- his hands clasp to his chest and eyelashes flutter as his mother, his face hardens and voice drops as his father, and as his sister his face contorted to a shape usually reserved for rambunctious little girls.

As you'd expect after 700 performances, a few jokes were tired. A few a bit rushed. More than once it was hard to hear a punchline because it was rattled off so quickly. However, those moments were rare and Copeland's impressive timing never waned during the show's dark moments.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre presents "Not a Genuine Black Man" at 8 p.m. and continues through May 31 at Berkeley Repertory Theater (2025 Addison). Tickets are $30-$45; call 510-647-2949 or visit

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Laura Jaye Cramer at @laurajayecramer, and like us on Facebook.

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Laura Jaye Cramer


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