Produced by Hershey Felder
Directed by Joe Zwick
At the Royal George Theater, Chicago
Amazing Immigrant Story Deftly Told
If Hershey Felder is involved, you can be assured the show is worthy. In his latest production, Jamaica Farewell, the amazing journey from the political violence of 1980’s Jamaica by the then 18 year old Debra Ehrhardt to the USA is a heartfelt story deftly told (and acted) by Ms. Ehrhardt herself. With a set and videos that depict and set the tones of her wild journey, Debra players herself as a seven year old through eighteen year old who has always had the dream, the obsession really, to migrate from Jamaica to Miami.
Her reasons for wanting to leave her island range from the poverty and violence, to the lack of social and economic opportunity, as well as her knowledge of American pop culture wherein everyone American has the opportunity to be rich and happy. Debra plays her meek, religious mother, her gambler/drunken father, and her neighbor who travels to Miami with her parents, often telling her of the grandness of the USA upon each return to the island.
This autobiographical one-person play is an intense journey filled with problems and roadblocks that would test the determination of an immigrant to strive for a better life in a modern affluent country, as we are witnessing in Europe with the flood of refugees from the Middle East.
Besides the unique events of Debra’s quest to leave Jamaica, which involves her getting paid $10,000 to smuggle in a million dollars from Jamaica to the USA that necessitates her getting her CIA friend, Jack Wallingsford, to carry her bag through customs since as a diplomat he is immune from search, Debra’s plans leave the audience on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what will happen next.
Tribute to the early atmosphere that Debra presents with the island sounds (BY Eril Curstensen) and the lighting (by Richard Norwood) and the expert video projection (by Mariya Taturintseva) that she players with a winningly charming persona filled with wit and humor and fueled by sheer determination and focus. It is a major accomplishment for an actor to present a multi-character story, especially from a first person point of view, but Debra Ehrhardt sure does that. She gets our imagination to see the red-eyed man who attacks her to the drunken father and the other characters who either impeded or help Debra on her journey all told with her rich Jamaican accent.
The true story and the performance make Jamaica Farewell a wonderful theatrical event. Ms Ehrhardt’s energy is infectious.
At the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, call 312-988-9000