by Willard Manus
Not since Nia Vardalos' MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING has there been such a captivating and hilarious one-person show as JAMAICA, FAREWELL. Written and acted by Debra Ehrhardt, JAMAICA, FAREWELL runs ninety minutes but is packed with action and a raft of raffish characters, all of whom are impersonated by Ehrhardt, a slim, lovely actress with amazing gifts of mimicry. Beginning when she was nine, Ehrhardt's story is rooted in her desperate need to get off the impoverished island of Jamaica and somehow make it to the USA.
There are large obstacles in her way: an alcoholic father, a bible-spouting mother, the price of an air ticket, U.S. government restrictions and suspicions. But Debra uses her wits, beauty and courage to convince an American CIA agent to help her reach Miami. The journey is made dangerous and suspenseful by the million dollars she is smuggling in her hand luggage on behalf of a Jamaican businessman.
In a way JAMAICA, FAREWELL is like a caper movie, fraught with intrigue, sex, sleaze and unforseen plot twists. But Ehrhardt balances the darkness and evil with generous dollops of humor, laughter and light, resulting in a solo show that never flags or falters, just drives skilfully and winningly to its satisfying conclusion.
Ehrhardt is not only a gifted writer, but a charismatic and appealing performer, able to hold the stage on her own and command an audience's attention and affection for the full ninety minutes. Staged simply but effectively by Monique Lai, JAMAICA, FAREWELL also benefits from the tropical flavors of Danny Ehrhardt's reggae-based sound track.
Presently at the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica, for two Saturdays in September (310-394-9770 ext. 1), but surely moving to other venues in the near future. (Click on firstname.lastname@example.org)