nytheatre.com review by Kyle Ancowitz
August 13, 2007
Jamaica, Farewell is the sweetest and most heartwarming coming-of-age tale that ever depended on a staggering international crime. Debra Ehrhardt's one-woman show about her unexpectedly bold escape from an idyllic—if dull—childhood in Jamaica practically beggars belief, which is not to say I thought she was making it up. The risks she takes are amazing; even more amazing is the way her homely reminiscence transforms itself into an epic caper before your very eyes. Ehrhardt's charming and cheeky account of growing up in Jamaica is by turns funny and tender...until it suddenly becomes The Bourne Ultimatum.
Her story begins in a middle-class childhood in Kingston, Jamaica, where her largely absent father and doting mother encourage her dreams of emigrating to America and discovering a better life. Yes, America, where anything is possible and suffering is unknown. When political and social unrest arrive along with rise of leftist Prime Minister Michael Manley in 1972, little Debbie's dreams begin to recede into the distance. After several futile attempts to obtain a visa, she nearly surrenders. She then meets a tall, dark, American stranger, whom she tempts with Circean wiles and Jamaican goat testicle soup. When her new beau turns out to be a CIA agent, Debbie can't believe her luck—all she needs now is an underworld connection and a jiffy visa and she can finally get the hell off that island!
She finds both in short order, the latter in the person of a local businessman who needs a million US dollars delivered personally in Miami, and the former in a toothless Chinese thug named "Bullet." All that remains is 24 hours of harrowing fear, violence, and inadvertent slapstick. In the end, the hand-off is made and no one gets hurt—well, unless you count the one guy—and you can't escape the impression that Ehrhardt wants to live in the US more than you have ever wanted to live, period. And God bless her for it.
Director Monique Lai's work exhibits admirable restraint, always an advantage in FringeNYC. Two chairs and a lectern are all she needs to set the scenes of Ehrhardt's adventures. Jessica Coale's lighting design is likewise simple but effective, using just a few instruments to evoke scenes as varied as midnight Jamaican jungles and the Miami International Airport. The sole extravagance is revealed in Ehrhardt's vocal impressions, by which she portrays dozens of characters with nary a costume change. She recounts her story in a sober, measured tempo, adapting her natural, lilting accent to stodgy Americans and broadly comic Jamaican characters with equal facility. There's no chance of being left behind or missing a joke.
In the finale, Ms. Ehrhardt celebrates by rushing to the audience and clasping hands with the front row. I'm thrilled she survived her ordeal.