Thursday, September 13, 2007

PLAY: FRINGE, "Jamaica, Farewell"

It's no surprise that Debra Ehrhardt is working on a screenplay: her autobiographical one-person show, Jamaica, Farewell seems to be the Hollywood version of her "escape" from Jamaica. That's a shame, because Ehrhardt is so likable, with the sort of easily excitable yet fully dramatic storytelling personality that makes you want to watch and listen to her (the accent doesn't hurt either). But she's bogged down with making everything bigger, and that distracts from the quieter moments where Ehrhardt seems to really connect with the audience, as when she gives a tearful goodbye to her drunk, yet beloved father.

The play is divided into two distinct halves (interrupted, actually, by the sort of blackout that usually marks the end of a show). In the first, our hero (going by the name Debby Ann Phillips) recounts her dreams of America, all from the precocious stories she tells in school straight to her modern day visions of an idyllic "other." Remembering the story of a maid who married her way to America, she clings to the first American she finds: a faceless CIA agent who speaks in the monotone of classically one-dimension film heroes. Though it's conceivable she might woo her way to the US through his connections, she instead gets involved in an illegal smuggling operation, trying to seduce her CIA stooge into unwittingly transporting $1M across the border.

The next half of the play details all the ways in which this plan goes wrong, and Ehrhardt, the engaging storyteller, grows increasingly frenzied as she goes from the slums to even worse places, like Pigeon Town and Jackass Ridge. She has some adventures with some colorful characters, like the owner of a bordello, a pot-smoking driver, and a Satan-like rapist, but the story lacks a real emotional engagement with anybody but the narrator, and this turns some of her art into redundant, self-serving hype. Which is not to say that Ehrhardt herself is a fabulist or shameless self-promoter; it's just that her story often seems to be happening either to someone else or under the shield of an audience. Like a Hollywood movie, then, it's entertaining, but only up to a point.

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