Every so often, a rare flower blooms in the theatrical garden: the organic one-person show. These performances arise out of a natural storytelling situation and not from behind the proscenium arch of traditional theater. Debra Ehrhardt’s Jamaica Farewell is a prize specimen of this very glorious and special kind of theater, and we are fortunate to have Ellen Pasternack and Albert Ihde’s Santa Barbara Theatre here in town to bring it to the Lobero. I spoke with Ehrhardt last week about the show, and the prospect of playing it for a Santa Barbara audience.
Hi Debra; thanks for talking to me. Have you been to Santa Barbara before? Yes, and I actually went inside the Lobero the day I was there, just to look around. It’s a beautiful room! I almost can’t believe I will be telling my story there. You have to understand-this project began many years ago when I was telling stories as a little girl, sitting up in my grandmother’s mango tree in Jamaica.
That’s quite a transition. You’ve been having a lot of success with the show recently, so congratulations. Is it exciting for you? Very exciting. I have had so many opportunities open to me. It is a dream come true. Only in America!
And is the show about that-coming to America? It is. It tells the story of my journey to this country, which begins in the Manley era of Jamaican history, which was a time of great violence and unrest. My dad was a drinker and a gambler, so we had some very hard times. I slept on the floor when our furniture was repossessed, and there were days when there was no money for food. My mother was very religious, and like so many Jamaican women of her generation, she lived completely for her man, not for herself. We had no television or radio. I had two sisters, so that’s how I came to tell stories-I was their entertainment. I would mimic everyone we knew, and I learned to love the reactions I got from my sisters and our neighbors when they would recognize someone from a gesture or a phrase I had learned. I could get them to guess who I was without ever saying the person’s name, and that was such a thrill for me as a child.
How did you first hear about America? I had a rich friend, and she traveled to America with her parents. When she came back, she had all these American things-toys, dolls, candy, books, and magazines-and I became obsessed with America, just like so many children do in the Third World. But the real moment of truth for me came when my friend told me something that at first I did not believe. She said, “In America, the women rule the men!” (Laughs.) Have you ever heard such a thing? That was what made up my mind that I absolutely had to go. Because I had already decided that I wanted no part of the traditional marriage role. I used to say, “When I grow up, my house will have no kitchen.” That’s how strongly I felt.
And how did you make your dream come true? That’s what you will learn in my show, Jamaica Farewell. I will tell you this, though: It begins when I am a young woman, and I meet a CIA agent.
Thanks Debra. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest.
Santa Barbara Theatre presents Jamaica Farewell at the Lobero Theatre on Thursday, October 11, and Saturday, October 13, at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday, October 14, at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.