In 1970, 6½-year-old Brian Copeland went on a quest in East Oakland to give his mom the perfect Christmas gift. It’s the subject of “The Jewelry Box,” his perfectly charming holiday show onstage at the Marsh in The City.
A one-man presentation along the lines of his long-running “Not a Genuine Black Man,” and a prequel to it, the locally flavored “The Jewelry Box” has enough soul and spirit to become a seasonal classic and a fresh alternative to the myriad “Christmas Carols” and “Nutcrackers” that dominate stages every December.
With no props and simple lighting and sound design, Copeland — directed with heart and precision by David Ford — plays all of the characters in his heartwarming, often funny tale: his old and young self, his family, and people he makes contact with in an attempt to earn $11.97.
It’s the sum he needs to buy a jewelry box he spots at an Oakland discount store while on a shopping trip (or “looking” trip, as the family is short on money) just three weeks before Christmas.
Industriously scanning newspaper classifieds, he sees an ad for a car salesman, so he makes his way, dressed in a three-piece suit (attracting the attention of two “old” guys drinking outside an Edes Avenue liquor store who take to calling him “Mr. President”), to the used car lot. The impressed proprietor hires him to do some marketing. He earns a cool $3 passing out business cards.
But Brian is beset by a few obstacles in his mission: his mean, unemployed father and his dad’s equally unpleasant mom, as well as his stingy landlord-neighbor Mr. Winters, who begrudgingly gives him empty soda bottles he can trade for cash.
Even his tough but loving maternal grandmother, also thrifty — she could “pinch a penny till Lincoln had a cerebral hemorrhage” — pays him to help her at her job in a kitchen in a convalescent hospital.
Things don’t work out the way audiences might expect.
Appealingly, “The Jewelry Box” — which Copeland dedicates in program notes to his sisters Tracie, Delisa, Tonya and Heather — takes some twist and turns before its tear-jerking and satisfying conclusion, which nicely exemplifies the true meaning of the holiday season.