'Jamaica' tale told with gripping intensity

“Jamaica, Farewell,” currently playing at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, is a spellbinding, edge-of-your-seat adventure.

Written and performed by Debra Ehrhardt, this piece is quite likely the most captivating solo-actor production this reviewer has witnessed in many a theatrical season.

Under the superb eye of director Joel Zwick (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), Jamaican-born Ehrhardt details her lifelong passion for obtaining entry into the United States.

Roadblocks from denied visas to governmental overthrows in her native land play out with gripping intensity.

Along the way, this ostensibly true story introduces a variety of people who played important parts in Ehrhardt having finally reached her goal.

Ehrhardt shifts seamlessly between this diverse list of characters that includes both her parents, a hellfire and brimstone minister, CIA operatives and a number of nefarious criminals.

Occasionally, Ehrhardt’s ear-pleasing accent requires the listener to pay particularly close attention to her dialogue, but as a whole, hers is a story that is surprisingly easy to follow, given its endless series of twists and turns.

Just as notable is her ability to move seamlessly from moments of gasp-inducing suspense to drily delivered comic asides that break the tension.

Given the ease with which Ehrhardt pulls off these 90-degree turns in telling her tale, it might seem an easier feat than it really is.

This is where her partnering with a skilled director like Zwick is most readily apparent.

Together, they successfully sculpt this saga by not revealing significant plot points until these facts can have the maximum effect.

Scenic designer Francois-Pierre Couture’s spaciously linear set, comprised of various clusters of luggage and boxes, allows Ehrhardt to move comfortably about the stage.

A back wall constructed of wood slats picks up and allows for beautiful shadowing as J. Kent Inasy’s lighting design leads and follows the actor among the various playing spaces.

Likewise, sound designer Jon Gottlieb has done a remarkable job surrounding the audience with a fantastic array of effects, voiceovers and background music.

Stage manager Sue Karutz’s calling of the production’s countless cues, most notably a number of times when Ehrhardt is pantomiming her job as a typist, is flawless.

Ultimately, it would be a disservice to Ehrhardt to divulge too much of her story but, suffice it to say, the conclusion is jaw-droppingly unpredictable.

And although there are certain moments that border on “adult” in nature with regards to language and specific situations, this production is certainly appropriate for ages 13 and older.

Furthermore, Ehrhardt’s miraculous struggle and her overflowing patriotism will put to shame native-born citizens of our country who take for granted the gift they have in being able to claim the title “American.”

Dink O’Neal, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn., resides in Burbank.


What: “Jamaica, Farewell” by Debra Ehrhardt

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays until April 17

Where: The Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank

Tickets: $27 to $42

Contact: (818) 955-8101 or visit www.FalconTheatre.com

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