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
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
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.
When: Through May 27
Where: Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St.
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 mins.