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Theater Review (LA): Jamaica Farewell by Debra Ehrhardt at the Santa Monica Playhouse

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At seven years old, Kingston, Jamaica native Debra Ehrhardt knew she wanted to move to the United States. Her favorite song was “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and she saw the starfish in the clear blue waters of Jamaica as the stars on the American flag. But every time she tried to go, she was prevented by lack of funds. Once she even tried to disguise herself as a nun, but to no avail.

Then she happened to meet an American, an agent for the CIA, who could pass through customs without a hitch. Plans were laid. But as with all good plans, there were problems along the way.

Ehrhardt survived her poor childhood, an alcoholic father, a revolution, danger, near death, and a harrowing journey to get to Miami at the age of 18. She recounts her adventures in a delightful, often-hilarious show called Jamaica Farewell that just opened at the Santa Monica Playhouse. In the play she shows us many characters she meets on the way: her religious mother, her hard-drinking father, a truly scary man she encounters in a room far from safety, her CIA hero, several officials, her shady boss, and others. Her characterizations are touching as well as scary, and most importantly, funny. Even as she faces near death she, the actress, manages to see the humor in the situation.

One-person shows are difficult to pull off. Ms. Ehrhardt succeeds in creating one of the most memorable shows of this kind that I have seen. This is largely due to her infectious personality, her charm, her humor, and even her beauty, both inner and external. I highly recommend this show as something original and different. She has already performed it to great acclaim in New York, Canada, and the UK.

Francis Megahy, a veteran of documentaries and television, has directed with clarity and humor. He never allows the show to get sentimental, although there is plenty of sentiment. Ms. Ehrhardt’s son, Danny Ehrhardt, provides the reggae soundtrack, and even joined his mom on stage to show off his “Jamaican side,” singing and dancing, to the great enjoyment of the audience.

Jamaica Farewell is being presented by the Jamaica Cultural Alliance and will be performed at the Santa Monica Playhouse until May 3rd. Go see it!

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