Written and performed by Debra Ehrhardt and directed by Joel Zwick. Based on her true-life story, Ehrhardt chronicles her escape from revolution-torn Jamaica in the 1970’s to fulfill her lifelong dream of going to America. September 25 is a preview performance.
Jamaica Farewell — Debra Ehrhardt’s semi-autobiographical comedy about her emigration to America... is a gently funny chronicle of Ehrhardt’s perilous journey – perilous in that she entered the country smuggling one million dollars for her businessman boss trying to protect his fortune from the socio-political chaos that engulfed the island in the 1970s.
Ehrhardt is a lifelong storyteller brimming with winning charm and a high-pitched musical accent that combines an island lilt with a shade of Irish cadence sanded down by a decade and a half in America. More important, this is the actress’ third play. She knows how to construct a story and pepper it with a bottomless supply of well-crafted quips that could only be written and persuasively performed by a survivor.
Ehrhardt steps into the vocal and physical traits of about 20 characters in her Alice Through The Looking Glass odyssey. The roster encompasses a 90-year-old cab driver, a well-endowed whorehouse madam, a cross-eyed drunken rapist and a self-assured American spy. She does this with rum-smoothness, understandable since she’s done this show more than 500 times. The lithe and kinetic Ehrhardt is always in motion whether she’s racing around the tiny stage, or dancing or, to illustrate an invasive body search, bending over.
Under the humor and despite the refusal to mawkishly pull at the heartstrings, Jamaica Farewell is an off-beat reminder of what this country once told the world it was about and how it served as a dream so profound that people would do anything to simply get a shot at it.
Ehrhardt recounts the journey from her birthplace to a fresh start in America in Jamaica Farewell, a beguiling solo show she’s now performing at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage. This touring production is her third play, after Mango, Mango and Invisible Chairs, and whatever dramatic license she applied in turning her life into art pays off. Jamaica Farewell is funny, engaging and irresistible.
Jamaica Farewell is largely a warm-hearted look at a then-naïve young woman’s determination to live her version of the American dream. Ehrhardt, a luminous presence who has performed her play many times in many places, knows how to deliver a comic zinger (Jamaica Farewell is loaded with them) as well as making theatergoers share in more deeply emotional moments.
Ehrhardt has lived in the United States since making that long-ago journey from Montego Bay to Miami. But with Jamaica Farewell she demonstrates that a trip through time to a place called home is not just possible but most entertaining.
There's a fine line between laughter and hysteria and Ehrhardt dances along it with marvelous precision. She's a funny woman with a terrific flair for becoming other people. Vocally, physically and exuding the inner spirits of her subjects, she becomes those who delight and those who terrify her as she struggles to escape her island.
The performance pitch is at a shattering level, the crowd roaring, Ehrhardt stomping, whirling, flinging herself from one character to the next, one moment the fear ridden girl, the next the Devil himself, her face the personification of evil.
Debra Ehrhardt is no beginner at one woman shows. Not only did she write Jamaica Farewell, filled with humor and passion and based on incidents in her own life but she also created the award winning Mango Mango and Invisible Chairs later optioned as a sitcom by Fox.