Play: Ehrhardt’s “Jamaica Farewell�

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Review: Play

America has always invited immigration. 

The Statue of Liberty sits in New York’s harbor a symbol of freedom, beckoning folks from other lands to take part in the multi-cultured fabric that is America.  

However, sometimes the road to freedom is a journey riff with difficulties, yet some people are even willing to face death to obtain it.  Debra Ehrhardt’s story is one carved out in triumph, peril, hazard, and a great determination to get to a land offering opportunities her native country of Jamaica, did not. 

So great was her ambition and desire to forge a better life, Ehrhardt was willing to face considerable risk to make her artistic dreams come true.  Through her play “Jamaica Farewell,” Ehrhardt details her poignant tale of coming to America alone at age 16. 

The NAACP award-winning writer and performer will be premiering her one-woman play, directed by Monique Lai, as part of the 11th Annual New York International Fringe Festival and Meadowbrook Entertainment.  “Jamaica Farewell” will be showcased August 10th through August 19th, at Independent Studios, located in the West Village, at 52A West 8th Street.

Debra Ehrhardt’s numerous attempts to obtain a visa in revolution-torn Jamaica during a time of political travail in the 1970’s were devastatingly futile. Left to her own devices, she risked prison time, even death, in an attempt to pull off a daring, dangerous caper with the unwitting help of an infatuated American CIA agent. 

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Debra Ehrhardt fled to the US during the revolution on the island. This is her third one-woman show. Previous productions include her first play, “Mango, Mango” a story of her childhood on the Island of Jamaica. A play so well received that she garnered nominations for “Best Actress,” “Best Playwright,” “Best Sound” and “Best Music” and won two NAACP awards.  “My play, “Invisible Chairs” is about my relationship with my alcoholic father,” said Debra.  “I loved my father but he was a gambler and oftentimes gambled away everything.  Though, it was rough, we always knew people who had it rougher. My mother came from an affluent family but my father was poor.  His drinking kept him from holding onto jobs and I can remember many a night sleeping on the floor,” recalled the ebullient performer/playwright. 

“We moved often because we could not pay the rent.  I remember once my father said to me, ‘Debbie, come sit near me.’  I said, ‘But Daddy, I cannot because there are no chairs.’  He said, ‘Come sit next to me and we will pretend they are invisible chairs.’   So, I did sit with my father in those invisible chairs and I never forgot that.  That is why I entitled my second play Invisible Chairs” stated Ehrhardt.

Her second play was so well received that it attracted the attention of David Strasberg, Creative Director, and Chief Executive Officer of the Lee Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles. Strasberg produced Ehrhardt’s play at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre in West Hollywood where it continued to get noticed. 

It wasn’t long before executives from Fox TV came knocking at her door and optioned Debra’s play for a sitcom.  The young writer found herself reworking the play for TV and suddenly becoming eligible to join the Writer’s Guide.  “I couldn’t believe it!  My dreams were coming true,” said Debra who found it difficult getting parts due to her Jamaican accent when she first came to America.  “When I arrived in America, I hoped to be an actress in all the genres; stage, screen, and TV, only to find that my accent and color held me back. In Jamaica, we have all mixtures of people so we are not concerned with color.  I was surprised when Americans constantly asked me what I was. I was told that I would have to lose my accent if I expected to get work. I had a thick Jamaican accent so they kept saying I sounded Black but looked white.  They told me I was never going to get any Black roles.  It was like I had to determine what I was, so I could get a part.  I grew up where there were Black people, whites, Chinese, Spanish, and all kinds of people. Although the majority people in Jamaica are Black,” explained Debra.
“In Jamaica, if you are educated you are going to rise to the top no matter what color you are.  Jamaica is surrounded by the sea, so even a poor family can sit down to a lobster dinner.  It’s different in America where color seems to matter and success is measured by one’s bank account.”

Debra went to Los Angeles hoping that casting was different there but was disappointed to find out it was not.  “So, I picked up a pen and started writing.  At first, it was the Jamaicans who came out to support my plays. I thank them for that.  However, now everyone comes out. It’s an immigrant story so my play is attracting people from everywhere. I am so grateful and appreciative of what I have been able to accomplish in America,” stated Debra whose play has toured several cities and is slated to go into Houston, Santa Barbara, Florida, etc. She even acquired bookings in London and Toronto.

Interested parties can visit for information about Farewell Jamaica or call Independent Studios for tickets at 212-279-4488.  The show scheduling is: Friday, August 10th at 7PM, Saturday, August 11th at 2:00 PM; Monday, August 13th at 4:30 PM; Thursday, August 16th at 9:30 p.m., Saturday, August 18th at 12:00 noon; Sunday, August 19th at 9:30 p.m. Tickets at $15.00.

Debra Ehrhardt’s talent is demonstrated throughout her play as she brings 20 different characters to life in her one-woman, 90-minute hit play.  So be sure to catch “Jamaica Farewell” at the Independent Studios on West 8th Street.  Ehrhardt’s show promises to keep you riveted in your seats.


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