debra_ehrhardt_web.jpgSometimes, a good, strong pinch is needed to distinguish between dream and reality. Debra Ehrhardt felt it necessary to grasp a little of her skin between two fingers and squeeze when she saw Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, enter a Los Angeles theater at her one woman show, Jamaica, Farewell. Wanting to deliver a great performance for the Hollywood duo, Ehrhardt took a deep breath to quiet the butterflies before taking the stage, then proceeded to wow Wilson so much that she signed on as executive producer and is in the process of taking the hit production from stage to screen.

In an interview from the Los Angeles home that she shares with her husband and two children, Ehrhardt said that the way her theatrical career has unfolded is sometimes difficult for even her to believe.

Jamaica, Farewell is a one woman play based on the story of Ehrhardt’s journey from Jamaica to America during the Manley Era. She said she wrote it “because it encapsulates one of the most adventurous, defining moments of my life.”

The critically acclaimed play that the Los Angeles Edge called “…a ninety-minute tour de force,” appears in Miami for one show only on July 17 at the Colony Theater on Miami Beach.

Although she has performed the show hundreds of times, Erdhart says she still gets nervous before each performance.

“A couple hours before the show I like to be alone, I pray that I won’t forget any of the words,” she explained. “I’m praying right up until I get on the stage, and just before I get on the stage, I say ‘amen’ to end that prayer.”

The night that she happened to look out into the theater’s foyer and saw the Hankses entering was especially nerve-wracking. 

“I saw them and I about fainted. I had to get on my knees and say God, I really need you tonight.” Her prayers must have worked. “God came through and I did one of the best performances ever,” Ehrhardt shared.

And as if having Wilson to sign on as executive producer and option the play for the big screen wasn’t confirmation enough that she was living a dream, Ehrhardt was also directed in the play by Joel Zwick, famed director of Big Fat Greek Wedding.

“Working with these people at this level is like a dream.”

Erhardt is thrilled that she did not follow others’ advice to lose her Jamaican accent when she started out acting in America more than 15 years ago.

Although she had difficulty finding roles, she said, “I didn’t want to lose the last Jamaican-ness, I didn’t want to lose any part of what makes me unique.”

She is also pleased that she ignored others who discouraged her from writing about her homeland, because, “Nobody wants to hear Jamaican stories.”

Erhardt’s reply to the naysayers was, “Well, the way that I’m going to write them, everybody will want to hear them. A good story is a good story.”

And the rest is history.

Photo: Debra Ehrhardt