‘Jamaica, Farewell’ a glorious journey for playwright and audience alike
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org May 9, 2012 4:58PM
Debra Ehrhardt stars in her self-penned one-woman show, “Jamaica, Farewell”
◆ Through May 27
◆ Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division
◆ Tickets, $35
◆ (800) 838-3006; www.brownpapertickets.com
Updated: June 13, 2012 8:02AM
The stage of the Chopin Theatre is bare, aside from a large steamer trunk and a few stacks of old suitcases. But have no fear. Jamaican-bred, Los Angeles-based actress Debra Ehrhardt is a storyteller who can fill up empty space with the sheer power of her exuberant storytelling. And as she spins her self-penned one-woman show, “Jamaica, Farewell” — recounting the adventure-filled saga of how she realized her more than decade-long dream of emigrating from the Caribbean “paradise island” of her birth to the United States — she fills our imagination with a slew of people, places and near-catastrophic experiences.
In addition, after taking us through her life from the age of seven to almost 20 in a rapidfire 95 minutes, Ehrhardt also treats her audience to an epilogue that jumps forward an additional two decades and offers up quite a treat. But I am getting ahead of myself.
A small, trim woman with a cafe latte complexion (we are told nothing about her mixed race parentage), Ehrhardt arrives onstage in black slacks and a ruffled coral blouse, with a long, black pony-tail down her back and not a trace of makeup on her strong face. Yet as soon as she launches into her story — truth embellished just enough so that it begins to take on the feeling of a tall tale — a light goes on, and the actress (directed by filmmaker Joel Zwick) grabs your undivided attention.
The borderline middle-class daughter of a very proper Christian mother and a hard-gambling, alcoholic father, Ehrhardt became entranced by all things American as a grade-school child and immediately set her sights on getting a visa. After graduating from high school she applied several times, but having no financial backing she was continually denied, even when, as she relates in a richly comic scene, she showed up at the government office dressed as a nun.
Ehrhardt takes a boring job in a textile company and watches as political chaos on the island of Jamaica further complicates matters, with Prime Minister Michael Manley’s socialist agenda triggering violence, as well as the arrival of C.I.A. agents. As it turns out, it is one of those agents, a macho guy named Jack — who she meets at a local lunch spot, and who takes a real shine to her — who inadvertently helps Ehrhardt to realize her American dream. The antics that eventually enable her to fly to Miami in the wake of a hair-raising journey from Kingston to Montego Bay Airport — when she has one million dollars in very hot cash stashed in her carry-on bag — form the contents of the show’s grand finale.
Ehrhardt leaves you wondering about a good number of things, including her rather blithe willingness to jeopardize Jack’s career. But sheer, unadulterated determination is her middle name, and perhaps she was never quite as naive as she’d like us to believe.
In any case, “Jamaica, Farewell” is enormous fun, and if you are lucky, Erhardt will take her curtain call with her sound designer, Danny Erhardt — her tall, sexy, drop-dead handsome son.
Incidentally, Ehrhardt is currently writing the screenplay of her show.