Brian Copeland genuinely tackles a touchy subject

Courtesy photo
One man’s challenge: Brian Copeland describes his bouts with depression in his new solo show “The Waiting Period.”
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“How are you?” That’s the cheerful, empty question that Brian Copeland faces repeatedly — from friends, acquaintances and strangers — at the beginning of his latest solo autobiographical piece, “The Waiting Period.”

“Fine,” he mutters hastily.

But he’s not fine at all — in fact, everything, including hair, hurts — and over the course of about 75 minutes, we learn why.

As in “Not a Genuine Black Man,” his deservedly huge hit at The Marsh that was also developed with and directed by the singular David Ford, this latest work tackles a sensitive subject. And like “Black Man,” it is wryly funny, honest and touching.

As Copeland explains, he suffers periodically from depression.

“Waiting Period” is about one particularly difficult bout, when several bad things happened: His wife left him without explanation, his beloved grandmother (one of the most endearing of his repertoire of characters) died, and he totaled his car in an accident that sent him into major surgery and a three-month recovery.

The show’s title refers to the obligatory period between applying for a California gun permit and actually obtaining the weapon. Copeland chose a Beretta.

What happens during those 10 days, as he struggles to take care of his three kids (offering not much more than strained smiles and Chinese takeout nightly) and continues to half-heartedly look for remedies for his suicidal despair — psychotherapy, connections with well-meaning friends, finally the advice of a priest who suggests seeking solace in a garden labyrinth — comprises the bulk of the play.

Copeland, also a popular Bay Area radio personality, is an affable, almost cuddly figure, confiding deep secrets — and humorous observations — in an unaffected and engaging manner.

Where he goes astray in “Waiting Period” is when he abandons his own persona to detour into other true-life characters. It’s not that he’s not gifted at inhabiting those roles, Anna Deavere Smith-style — his portrayal of a 50-something fellow depression sufferer is utterly convincing — but those characters’ stories are less compelling than his own, and they feel like a way to avoid deeper personal revelations.

Particularly frustrating is the lengthy time devoted to a squeaky-voiced teenage girl who cuts herself. Granted, Copeland’s agenda goes beyond personal confession; he wants to encourage others, like that teenager, to seek help.

But the more of his own struggle that he’s willing to share, the more effective he is. I was left wanting to know more — about Brian Copeland.

REVIEW

The Waiting Period

Presented by The Marsh

Where: 1062 Valencia St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes March 24

Tickets: $15 to $50

Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org

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