I couldn't help but wonder during the first 15 minutes of Jamie M. Fox's one-woman New York show, MazelTov Cocktail, what it was all about. During the first few scenes of the 75-minute play, Fox explains - in character - all the details and duties she has assigned to her as a personal assistant for a successful actress in Beverly Hills. Her days are defined by mundanity, order, and meaninglessness. Her character hides obvious longing beneath outward pep.
Yet as the play progresses, and the focus leaves the boredom that fills Fox's days, you learn more about Fox herself. Her relationships with her family members serve pivotal roles in her character's life. It's especially noteworthy since Fox sits in for them, doing their voices and expressions while simultaneously illustrating their roles in her life. It's only through discovering more about Fox's character's background and back story that the audience is clued into the themes and messages of the play.
The play carries undertones of neglect, disappointment, and waywardness throughout and shows the dysfunctional side to family life. Because so much of the play was deeply personal for Fox, I considered what kind of effect performing the nightly show has had on her. Also, I wondered what she thought about the play.
The show's website features an interview Fox did with NPR where she emphasizes that the play is intended to be a dark comedy that illustrates "people's behavior [and] the funny things we do. We all kind of do these strange, funny things that when you isolate them, it's humorous." While Fox's sentiment may be true, it's not exactly the show's takeaway message. In the interview, for example, she lists her parents - the inspiration for the protagonist's parents - as people who use humor to get through their tougher times. However, the parents that appear in the performance are much more complex than that; the only laughing that takes place is at their expense, not from their punchlines or perspectives.
Fox masterfully goes back and forth into the characters of the mother and father as she tries to show off their comedic chops. But that humor doesn't entirely come through beneath the terrible parenting lapses and missed cues they execute when dealing with their struggling daughter. It's hard for the audience to laugh at times when they want to admonish or at the very least steer someone in the right direction.
In that way, I think Fox overestimates the humor component to the play, and therefore expresses a misguided message about her show's meaning. It's actually a stronger and more heartfelt one. The play seems to recognize that parents have shortcomings and tribulations when dealing with their children, and the difficulties that arise when a child struggles her whole life for affection and attention. Fox gives her parents as many chances at redemption as they give to their drug-addicted son.
Despite missing the mark on her play's impact and importance, Fox does inject a fresh (and maddening) take on battles with unexpected and undeserving adversity. It might be a more serious message than Fox had hoped for, but it's one that comes through because there's no sugar coating to it.