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By PATRICK LEE
Jamie M. Fox has been a personal assistant to the stars and seen her drug-addicted brother go to prison, and she sees the humor in all of it. In Mazel Tov Cocktail, her semi-autobiographical solo show, she plays a host of characters who wring laughs out of their strange and stressful lives.
TDF: How much of the show is true and how much is fabricated?
JAMIE M. FOX: The themes are based on the truth of what I learned from my experiences, particularly from when my brother was incarcerated. As for the characters—I may have met people who imparted the information, but then I created the characters to be different people.
TDF: In the show, you work as a personal assistant for an actress. Did you actually do that job?
JF: I did; I fell into it. I went to get headshots and the photographer was friends with an A-list celebrity who needed an assistant. I worked for her and then I floated around assisting other people, filling in when needed. There’s a very funny bit in the show about a bikini top and a neck brace—it’s completely true and happened while I was working for a couple. They came to see the show, and I could see them while I was telling that story. Their mouths dropped. But they laughed very hard at the humor of it and have been very supportive. What’s been interesting to me in writing the show has been exploring the kind of person who becomes a personal assistant, the kind of person who gives themselves up entirely.
TDF: What kind of person would that be?
JF: Well for me, I had been prepared for it by growing up with a drug addict. It was always all about him, making sure he was okay and wasn’t going to blow. I grew up with a lot of chaos in my family. I thought that by ordering other people’s lives, making sure everything was taken care of and put in its place, that the chaos would go away. But that didn’t happen.
TDF: What made you decide to tell your story in solo-show format?
JF: I’d always wanted to do one ever since seeing [playwright-performer] Anna Deavere Smith years ago. I think it’s a really interesting and theatrical way to tell a story. I first started thinking about writing the show while I was sitting in the courtroom with my family. I started taking notes, which was probably my way to deal with the situation because it was so intense. I knew the story was interesting in terms of what addiction does to a family. My father is very involved his community, but he didn’t feel he had anywhere to turn. I found that really interesting. Specifically, Jewish families tend not to talk about addiction very much.
TDF: Do Jewish audiences respond to the show in a particular way?
JF: I would say the show is culturally Jewish. There are some moments about denial or behavior that may get a stronger laugh, but the humor isn’t exclusive at all. The audience plays a huge role in this show. I think it matters how much pain you’ve had in your life that you can laugh about. Phyllis Diller has this great quote: “Comedy is tragedy revisited.”
TDF: Do you feel that telling your story as a comedy gives it more truthfulness?
JF: I think it opens more doors because it is comedy. Everyone has some secret they want to get away from. Parents come up to me after the show and say their son is a cutter or their daughter is anorexic. A couple of nights ago a woman grabbed my arm and said she had to talk to me because her brother was also in prison and she was so moved by the show. I did a performance at a drug rehab and one of the guys told me that the show made him think about what his addiction did to his sister. Now maybe his sister will get the support and love from her brother that I didn’t, and if so, that’s so rewarding. Job well done.
Patrick Lee is a regular contributor to Theatermania and has written for various other theatre sites including BroadwaySpace. He blogs at Show Showdown, which he co-founded, as well as at his own site, Just Shows To Go You.