July 18, 9:30 p.m.; July 19, 1 p.m.
They say: “Jamaica. Revolution. Visa. Impossible. CIA. Seduction. Desperation. A dream. Heartbreak. Handsome. American. Customs. Million dollars. Duffel bag. Machetes. Goats. Prostitutes. Bullets. Adrenaline. Kerosene. Run for your life. Based on a true story.”
Annie’s take: No doubt you have at least a couple of friends, relatives, etc. who are known for their proclivity for extensive and often exhaustive storytelling. Whether these stories sprout up during your dinner conversation, your lunch break or your experience of that third dirty martini, they hold the potential to lull you to the brink of unconsciousness or inject you with a hearty dose of insight into the human condition. You can almost smell an extensive and exhaustive story from its opening words: take, for example, Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles, son of Peleus, or, if its been a while since high school Lit, This one time, at band camp Whether the yarn-spinner be Homer or American Pies red-haired hussy-in-disguise, there exists a dangerously fine line between compelling and mind-numbing storytelling.
That being said, signing on for an 85-minute one-woman show presents the ticket-holder with a doubt or two. Ill confess that I had my reservations. However, may it be known that Jamaica Farewell, Debra Ehrhardts narrative about her immigration from Manley-era Jamaica to promise-holding America, is a story worth sitting through. From the get-go, there is no uncertainty as to how the story will end: it begins in a Starbucks, which, in a journey-to-America story, signifies success as clearly as the Statue of Liberty. Like any story whose outcome is already known, it is the middle that counts. In Jamaica Farewell, the degree to which Ehrhardt fantasizes about life in America works as the comic frame and, as such, maintains the freshness of each bump along the road.
If the show has an Achilles heel, it is the possibility that its central character, an optimistic immigrant, might feel worn-out. However, Ehrhardt manages to survive that threat. Zipping across the bare stage in a pink shirt and jeans, she secures the audiences affection with her Jamaican accent, astute physical comedy and rapid-fire jokes that manage at once to poke fun at and profess love for her home country.
Tales of immigration, and certainly those that clock in at over an hour, can rightly be termed extensive and exhaustive. Yet, like the bards of yore, Debra Ehrhardt possesses a rare ability to mesmerize that would have kept ancient Grecians sitting around the fire for hours.
See it if: Your facial muscles are supple enough to smile continually for 85 minutes.
Skip it if: The fact that you left your Adderall at home might present a problem.