Jamaica Farewell Meadowbrook Entertainment

May 4th  - 27th.  8p Fri-Sat; 4p Sun

Highly Recommended "glorious journey for playwright and audience alike" - Hedy Weiss, Chicago SunTimes 5/9/12

"90 highly enjoyable minutes...so sincere and honest, so clear-eyed and unshakably resolute......Perchance a few NATO heads of states will find their way to Wicker Park" - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 5/7/12
Highly Recommended - Ehrhardt's eye for detail competes with her penchant to play for laughs, and the result is a  story that strains credulity but wells with witty dialogue that'll be right at home in the  movie adaptation". - Keith Griffith, Chicago Reader 5/10/12

Tickets $35 - 800.838.3006



05/04/12 - 05/27/12

Fri-Sat 8p; Sun 4p

Highly Recommended - ‘Jamaica, Farewell’ a glorious journey for playwright and audience alike - Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun Times 5/9/12.    "The stage of the Chopin Theatre is bare, aside from a large steamer trunk and a few stacks of old suitcases.  But have no fear. Jamaican-bred, Los Angeles-based actress Debra Ehrhardt is a storyteller who can fill up empty space with the sheer power of her exuberant storytelling. And as she spins her self-penned one-woman show, “Jamaica, Farewell” — recounting the adventure-filled saga of how she realized her more than decade-long dream of emigrating from the Caribbean “paradise island” of her birth to the United States — she fills our imagination with a slew of people, places and near-catastrophic experiences.

In addition, after taking us through her life from the age of seven to almost 20 in a rapidfire 95 minutes, Ehrhardt
 also treats her audience to an epilogue that jumps forward an additional two decades and offers up quite a treat. But
 I am getting ahead of myself.

A small, trim woman with a cafe latte complexion (we are told nothing about her mixed race parentage), Ehrhardt arrives
 onstage in black slacks and a ruffled coral blouse, with a long, black pony-tail down her back and not a trace of makeup
 on her strong face. Yet as soon as she launches into her story — truth embellished just enough so that it begins to take
 on the feeling of a tall tale — a light goes on, and the actress (directed by filmmaker Joel Zwick) grabs your undivided attention.

The borderline middle-class daughter of a very proper Christian mother and a hard-gambling, alcoholic father, Ehrhardt became  entranced by all things American as a grade-school child and immediately set her sights on getting a visa. After graduating from high school she applied several times, but having no financial backing she was continually denied, even when, as she relates in a richly comic scene, she showed up at the government office dressed as a nun.

Ehrhardt takes a boring job in a textile company and watches as political chaos on the island of Jamaica further complicates matters,  with Prime Minister Michael Manley’s socialist agenda triggering violence, as well as the arrival of C.I.A. agents. As it turns out,  it is one of those agents, a macho guy named Jack — who she meets at a local lunch spot, and who takes a real shine to her — who inadvertently helps Ehrhardt to realize her American dream. The antics that eventually enable her to fly to Miami in the wake of a  hair-raising journey from Kingston to Montego Bay Airport — when she has one million dollars in very hot cash stashed in her carry-on bag — form the contents of the show’s grand finale.

Ehrhardt leaves you wondering about a good number of things, including her rather blithe willingness to jeopardize Jack’s career.  But sheer, unadulterated determination is her middle name, and perhaps she was never quite as naive as she’d like us to believe.

In any case, “Jamaica, Farewell” is enormous fun, and if you are lucky, Erhardt will take her curtain call with her sound designer, Danny Erhardt — her tall, sexy, drop-dead handsome son.

Incidentally, Ehrhardt is currently writing the screenplay of her show."


Caribbean odyssey a harrowing and humorous tale - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 5/7/12.  ""Jamaica, Farewell" a show title with a judiciously placed comma but very little in the way of a set or other trappings, is one woman's first-person story of her determination to leave the Caribbean island of her birth and find her way to a new life in America. Sure, it's hardly news that many immigrants risk life and limb — and leave those people and places they love — to get to a country that still acts as a global beacon for freedom and prosperity, whatever political shadows might temporarily obscure the light. But it is routinely forgotten. Here are 90 highly enjoyable minutes that might help you remember.

There's a lot of talk about internationalism in Chicago at present. Well, "Jamaica, Farewell," which has arrived here from Los Angeles (under the skilled direction of Joel Zwick, of "My Big Fat  Greek Wedding" repute), is a different kind of international show, but one just as potent and revealing of global forces as a window into some distant land. This is a tale of dislocation, a story about an ordinary person whose aspirations don't contradict her love of home. And the person in question, actress Debra Ehrhardt, is so sincere and honest, so clear-eyed and unshakably resolute, it is easy to connect with her experience with genuinely surprising intensity — even if your own experience of Jamaica mostly involved Apple Vacations, the beach at Negril and a few buckets of Red Stripe.

Perchance a few NATO heads of states will find their way to Wicker Park and see what it's like to run on nothin' more than your own force of will.

And let me further recommend a trip to the Chopin Theatre for anyone operating in discouraged or frustrated mode. Nobody promised that a worthy stay on this earth was easy, and Ehrhardt's story is fundamentally an ode to sheer personal determination. Those in life who know what they want and don't stop until they get it are rare, lucky creatures, but the "don't stop" part kills off plenty of us along the way. Ehrhardt, not so much.

This may sound like some earnest immigrant narrative, especially since the antagonist in Ehrhardt's story is mostly a combination of Michael Norman Manley and the CIA, during Manley's first stint as Jamaican prime minister from 1972-1980. Therein, Manley (who later modified his views) became enamored of Fidel Castro, which did not sit well Stateside, given that the U.S. government wasn't looking  for two communist Caribbean islands on its doorstep. It's widely assumed that the CIA played some kind of covert role in ginning up the domestic opposition to Manley, and it's that turmoil, which roiled the ordinary way of life in Kingston town, that forms the backdrop for Ehrhardt's story of departure (which has shades of a Cuban escape, even if Manley never went as far as Castro when it came to restrictions on freedom). It not a simplistic story. Ehrhardt uses a smitten and thus injudicious CIA agent to get her out of Jamaica, even as his work is arguably giving her more of a reason to leave.

Despite the intensity of the stakes, "Jamaica, Farewell" actually is a very funny and fast-paced piece (four mature ladies with hints of Jamaican accents sitting behind me Friday night acquired grins at the  start of the show that never left their faces, and I kept checking). It is told with the irreverence of a story by Ian Fleming, the James Bond creator who, interestingly enough, loved Jamaica. A teenage  Ehrhardt makes her exit while trying to smuggle out $1 million in cash, trying to help a struggling Kingston business buy supplies in Miami, despite the new restrictions of the Manley government. Her departure  is one of mostly comic misadventures — involving farm animals, dead ends, buses, taxis, planes and frantic, daring deeds. But just as you start to laugh, Ehrhardt will sock you in the gut, throwing out a scene where she fights off a rapist who almost kills her, or a really touching little moment when she confronts her hopelessly drunken father. It's a small story of triumph over huge adversity, even if you and she constantly fear that the end result will not be all she hopes. It sits well in Chicago, where we like this kind of thing.

I'd argue a few visuals — a modest backdrop suggesting the island, rather than a cold, white screen — would enhance this very simple piece, which already has a very clear physical language. It would also be worth taking another pass through the script, plugging some narrative holes and deeping the moral and racial implications of Ehrhardt's journey. And the ending is abrupt, even if the Friday night encore, which offered up one reason why all this was worth it, went down very well with those grinning Jamaican ladies.

But whatever your point of origin, be it ten thousand or ten miles from Wicker Park, you'll likely find yourself staring at Ehrhardt, who is uncommonly beautiful, and musing on how the world kicks out remarkable people who refuse to stay where they are put. America is far luckier than it realizes that so many of them want to come here". 



Highly Recommended - Jamaica Farewll - Keith Griffith, Chicago Reader 5/10/12.  "My Big Fat Greek Wedding started out as a solo stage show about a Greek woman chasing the American dream via romance with a square-jawed Anglo. So it's little mystery why Joel Zwick, who directed the high-grossing film version of MBFGW,  is now directing this solo stage show about a Jamaican woman chasing the American dream  via romance with a square-jawed Anglo. Lithe, funny Debra Ehrhardt spins an autobiographical  tale of growing up in Jamaica, dreaming of America, and, at age 17, meeting a handsome CIA agent  stationed in Kingston (nothing creepy there) who helps her start a new life in Miami.   Ehrhardt's eye for detail competes with her penchant to play for laughs, and the result is a  story that strains credulity but wells with witty dialogue that'll be right at home in the  movie adaptation".

Jamaica Farewell - Suzanne Scanlon, TimeOut Chicago 5/10/12. Jamaican-born performer Debra Ehrhardt’s solo piece is a compelling homeland tale.  "Debra Ehrhardt’s Jamaica Farewell brought me back to that self-dramatizing moment of the late ’90s—when it seemed everyone had a one-person show.   The piece is framed by Ehrhardt’s somewhat vague if ominous pronouncement that as a child in Kingston, dreaming of America, she didn’t know “how dangerous it is to have your dreams turn into reality.”

At first, Ehrhardt’s story is an interesting enough narrative of life as a between-classes girl in politically shifting Jamaica. Her fantastical dreams of America are amusing, if bordering on immigrant cliché. The piece gains momentum as Ehrhardt narrates the terror and instability of Jamaican  life under Michael Manley’s socialist government. The most gripping part of the story involves her attempt to smuggle money to Miami in exchange for a visa that’s otherwise impossible to obtain (she’s even tried dressing up as a nun). In Ehrhardt’s telling, an attempted assault by a would-be rapist—she’s named him Lucifer—is as funny as it is harrowing.

Driving the show are the actress’s appealing presence and her ability to move in and out of characters ranging from her mother and father to the  American CIA agent who unwittingly keeps her out of jail. She doesn’t quite have the shape-shifting talents of an Anna Deveare Smith, nor the yarn-spinning abilities of Mike Daisey, yet she’s got an energy to match either of these stalwart solo performers. For those of us who know  Jamaica primarily as the land of white sand and Bob Marley, Ehrhardt’s story is a welcome and poignant revelation.


Jamaica, Farewell - Jake Lindquist, www.ChicagoStageStyle.com - "The one-person show is a unique style of performance that can yield an incredible evening of entertainment and insight or come across as a self-indulgent meditation of one-sided opinions.   There are so many traps such as over-the-top characterizations or one-sided arguments that can make an hour seem like a lifetime.   I have personally only been impressed by a solo show once in my life and had my own bias walking into the theater.  All of that being said,  whatever reservations or preconceptions you may have about solo performance, put them aside and run down to the Chopin Theatre and see Debra Ehrhardt's "Jamaica Farewell".  It is a master  class in storytelling that makes for a wonderfully heartfelt evening of theatre.

The performance, written by Ms. Ehrhardt, is an autobiographical tale of her journey to come to the United States from Jamaica in the 1970s.  We learn about how her love for the United States grew as a little girl, the struggles of her familial life, and the seemingly impossible series of events that allows her to achieve her
lifelong dream in 90 minutes that fly by so quickly you  hardly have time to breathe, partially because your sides will hurt from laughing so hard.

Ms. Ehrhardt transitions seamlessly through every chapter of the story with the finesse of a master storyteller at the top of her game.    At times I felt like the cavernous Chopin mainstage was 1970s Jamaica and could almost smell the oxtail soup in the café.  Her characters are honest, affectionate, and relatable without parody  or exaggeration.  Her compassion for these characters  and what they have meant to her growth as a person is evident and by the end of the show I loved them as much as she does.

This show has been fine-tuned down to the slightest pause by director Joel Zwick (of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" fame).  The show has been in production since 2007, but the touring version is what was developed at the Falcon Theatre in Los Angeles.  I would have loved to see how this show has grown over time into this current version, but am glad to have partaken in the final product.   The pared-down set consists of a series of trunks, which I found to be a nice touch.

One other simple detail that I never fully understood until the end was the use of the projection screen.  Through the entire show it is used as a scrim to add color and accentuate mood, and it is  not until the very final moment of the show an actual projection is used.  By never showing the locations or people she is talking about, Ms.  Ehrhardt allows the imaginations of the audience to  paint their own pictures.  In a high-tech world of constant sensory overload and spectacle, it was refreshing to see old-fashioned storytelling  has the same impact today as it did around the fire thousands of years ago.

For anyone who has ever had a dream, which is everyone, the story will resonate on a variety of different levels.  You will laugh, you will cry,  you will stand up and cheer.  "Jamaica, Farewell"  is more than an average "Coming to America" story; it is about overcoming the everyday obstacles that hinder us to realize our dreams.  
See this show before it leaves Chicago and continues to its next destination!   You won't be disappointed".


Jamaica Farewell - John Olson, www.TalkinBroadway.com. "Debra Ehrhardt's one-woman show, which was an award winner in New York's 2007 Fringe Festival and has been touring the country since, takes a little while to get going but ends up being a fun ride. The 85-minute show opens with some charming but unexceptional anecdotes of  Ms. Ehrhardt's childhood, setting up her lifelong fascination with the United States. The child of an apparently charming but inveterate
 gambling-drinking father and a patient, saintly mother, the family didn't have the means to travel and, as she entered her late teens during  the 1970s, emigration became increasingly difficult for Jamaicans. This is all a long set-up to what turns into a quite entertaining caper story.

The 18-year-old Ehrhardt gets her chance when she accidentally and simultaneously meets two different men who can help her realize her dream of coming to America. One is a CIA agent, the other a shady businessman who hires her to smuggle one million dollars from Jamaica into the U.S.   She has to drive from Kingston to Montego Bay to meet up with the CIA agent, but what should have been an uneventful four-to-five hour trip across  the island turns into a harrowing journey after a flat tire in a small rural town.

Ehrhardt tells the tale of her wild trip to the airport with expert pacing, creates multiple characters, and helps us visualize the settings.   Program notes say the play—which was performed at Garry Marshall's Falcon Theatre in L.A. last fall—has been optioned for a feature film treatment.   It's not hard to visualize the story as a film while listening and watching Ehrhardt's retelling of it. She's marvelously kinetic and visual,   with a keen sense of timing that even suggests the film editing. Her performance here is directed by Joel Zwick, who, as the director of the film  My Big Fat Greek Wedding and all of Hershey Felder's one-man plays, knows both movies and live solo performance. He helps her make an exotic
story with a set of only a few trunks on stage as a set.

The attractive and athletic Ehrhardt performs her show with an energy and verve that belie the many times she's done this for an audience.   It's a short but enjoyable show that passes even faster than its 85 minutes would suggest, due to Ms. Ehrhardt's likable presence".


Joel Zwick

Debra Ehrhardt

Light Design - Janna Weber

Tags: Theater, Rest Of The World, 2012