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placeholder April 9, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 7   •   Oakland, CA
St. Felicitas school honored Brian Copeland as a Distinguished Alumni, pictured with school Principal Meghan Jorgensen and Rev. Jayson Landeza, associate pastor at St. Felicitas Catholic Church.

Catholic entertainer's latest play explores
depression and suicide

Because it deals with the touchy subjects of depression and suicide, Brian Copeland didn't know what to expect when audiences saw his latest play, "The Waiting Period."

"The Waiting Period"
Time: Fridays, 8 p.m. and Saturdays, 5 p.m.
Location: The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco Tickets: $25-35 Online reservations: TheMarsh.org or 415-826-5750
"I had no idea what was going to happen or what people were going to think. David Ford, (the play's director/collaborator) and I knew the story we wanted to tell. I knew the point I wanted to make. After that it was up to God and the critics."

Copeland, whose previous solo show, "Not a Genuine Black Man" enjoyed a long run and much acclaim, was relieved by the positive response from critics. The response has been so positive that the play, expected to close in late March, has been extended through the month of April.

"During the whole process I kept saying to David, 'This will either be considered brilliant or it'll be the biggest piece of crap to ever hit the American stage,'" he said.

Copeland's trepidation was understandable. For 75 minutes the actor-comedian, a longtime radio talk host in the San Francisco Bay Area, would be putting the spotlight on one of the "most stigmatized diseases in America," he said. "People are dying because they fear what society will think of them if they came right out and said, 'I'm hurting and I need help.'"

Copeland reveals his own struggle with a bout of depression in "The Waiting Period." The title refers to the mandatory 10-day period he had to wait after buying a gun before he could take possession of it. He planned to use that gun to take his life.

Despite the grim subject matter Copeland, a graduate of St. Felicitas School in San Leandro and Moreau High School in Hayward, still manages to inject his unique brand of humor to help move the story along. Among the characters he creates on stage is a concerned audience member he once heard mutter to her neighbor, "You don't suppose that he will actually die at the end?"

During his performance the actor briefly mentioned several incidents that preceded his depression: his wife had abandoned him and their three kids, the death of his beloved grandmother who raised him and his siblings, and a lengthy and painful recovery from a car accident. He also spoke about the physical toll such as fatigue and loss of interest in life that he experienced during this troubled time.

Depression is among the main risk factors for suicide, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In the U.S. around 30,000 people die each year by taking their own lives. Studies also show that more people die by suicide than homicide.

When asked why he went public with such a personal and painful episode of his life, the playwright said that when his close friends lost their 15 year old nephew to suicide — the youth had "laid down before a moving train" — in January 2011, that he had to do something. "That was the impetus that made me say, 'I have to tell this story. If it makes one hurting kid think twice before hurting him or herself, it was worth it.'"

He acknowledged that the play has an agenda and that the central message is "Tell Somebody."

"If you hurt, don't keep it to yourself. Ask for help. You have nothing to be ashamed of. If you aren't a person who suffers from depression, I can 100 percent guarantee that you are close to someone — spouse, child, friend, co-worker — who does."

Copeland hopes that "The Waiting Period" has provided some insight into what depressed persons are going through. "I let you see the world through their eyes for 75 minutes."

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