Elan Zafir in the solo show “The Unaccompanied Minor” at the Capital Fringe Festival. (Daniel Corey)
By Washington Post Staff
Elan Zafir’s autobiographical solo “The Unaccompanied Minor” is a high point in the ongoing Capital Fringe Festival in Southwest D.C., says Roger Catlin, who also checks out the Parkland-based school-shooting drama “14,” while Celia Wren reviews DanceArtTheater’s “Through the Wall.”
The Unaccompanied Minor
“The Unaccompanied Minor” sounds like the Fringe show that will address border separations.
Rather, it is Elan Zafir’s explosive depiction of his own personal heartbreak — seeing his son just four times a year by going through the maddening airport process of transferring unaccompanied youth between divorced couples as if they were prisoner exchanges. Even with the bureaucratic hoops of airport pickup complete, it’s only the beginning of the struggle, as father and son relearn how to relate to each other every time.
Zafir’s impassioned portrayal, intensified within the intimate confines of the walls of a paneled Christ United Methodist Church meeting room, takes him through his own childhood of broken connections, disappointments and a jolting move from Canada to Florida, embodying a dozen characters along the way in whip-smart, breakneck fashion.
The athletic Zafir, who appeared most recently in Mosaic Theater’s “The Vagrant Trilogy,” has devised a show with layers of theatricality that crackle from its use of quick flashbacks, rising tension and even the appearance of Rambo. It culminates in the brilliant juxtaposition of a custody hearing with a high school gang fight.
More than a great Fringe offering,”The Unaccompanied Minor” is a cathartic attempt to vault the myriad walls that can divide father and child.
55 minutes. July 21, 27 and 28. Christ United Methodist Church, 900 Fourth St. SW.
— Roger Catlin
Actor Elan Zafir only sees his son four times a year. You will never forget this fact after you see The Unaccompanied Minor. Each time he reminded me, I could see a little bit of the pain underneath the words. And it seems that one of the ways that Mr. Zafir has chosen to process that pain is by creating a very funny and energetic one-man show about it.
There is no set and there are no props. Every scene that Zafir drew me into was created entirely through pantomime and vocal flexibility, and yet I was right there watching every last detail as though he had filmed it.
The Unaccompanied Minor at Capital Fringe
Click photo for tickets to The Unaccompanied Minor at Capital Fringe
We begin with Zafir driving through horrendous traffic. The stress he is feeling is palpable. It turns out he is driving to the airport to pick up his son – whom he only sees four times a year. And of course, everything is going wrong in that way that it only can when it is exceedingly important that you be responsible and on time for something.
The Unaccompanied Minor
closes July 28, 2018
Details and tickets
From there, I was launched through a journey that was part memoir, part philosophical musings, and part action movie, but all completely colored through the lens of those 9 weeks a year that he spends with his son. (Even a synopsis of the movie Rambo is somehow relevant.) How did he get here? Did he let this happen, or did it happen to him? It requires us to know his whole life to even begin to try to answer that question. But we are left without a doubt that however he ended up unable to be a part of his son’s life, it isn’t right.
We meet his family. We go to high school with him. We experience tense moments in his romantic relationships and even tenser moments in the courtroom of a custody battle. And through it all, we see him learning how to be the dedicated father he wants to be when his son spends 301 days of the year 2000 miles away.
The show is incredibly polished, and Zafir has excellent comedic timing. It is effortless for him in a way that can only come from hours of rehearsal and experimentation until the final product is just right. He becomes every character, each one a unique vocal delivery that I wished extended to a full physical embodiment as well. But it appeared to be a choice not to commit physically to the characters. At the rate he tore from one impersonation to the next, perhaps there just wasn’t time for him to fully drop into something new. But that doesn’t mean that the show wasn’t full of physicality and energy – just that at no point did Zafir ever seem to disappear from the stage, replaced with the person he was portraying. This is his story. He is always fully present. Perhaps that was the choice.
The show’s structure zings back and forth among present day with his son, present day in Christ United Methodist, and memory. It is a mix of one-liners, and then that story you’re telling a room full of people at a party, and then a one-on-one conversation he was having only with me, only to round back to a staged performance once again. Eventually Zafir works himself into a frenzy that pulls together elements of everything he has been trying to communicate for almost an hour. It’s spellbinding.
And yet, for all of the comic elements Zafir finds in his tale, don’t come expecting a funny story. It is not that. And it isn’t a perfect performance. But it is a heartfelt one, one that asks you to clutch your loved ones to you and speak the words to them that you would want to tell them on your deathbed.
Because you’re lucky they are with you. After all, Elan Zafir only gets to be with his son four times a year.
The Unaccompanied Minor . Written and performed by Elan Zafir . Directed by Dody Disanto . Presented at Capital Fringe 2018 . Reviewed by Alison Daniels.
Comedy. It isn’t always pretty. And sometimes it isn’t even funny. In the case of Elan Zafir’s biographical one-man show The Unaccompanied Minor, although it’s billed as a comedy, it really isn’t all that funny. And that’s okay, because there’s much more to the 50-minute monologue than laughs. Zafir has a son who lives 2,000 miles away with his mother. Mom and dad? They never married. Father and son only see each other four times a year and in those two-week drop-ins they’re meant to forge a lasting parent-child bond. But first dad has to get to the airport and through security to pick up nine-year-old Rafi. With traffic, long security lines, and a full-body search – there’s much to slow down Zafir before the two finally connect.
But The Unaccompanied Minor, which plays on a living-room sized stage in Christ United Church’s social room packed with wicker dining chairs and a pair of sofas (arrive early if you want a cushy seat), only partly focuses on the father-son relationship and its long separations broken up by brief but intense periods of togetherness. How, he wonders at one point, how can he be a good father when they see each other just nine weeks a year? They’re essentially familiar strangers, which explains Zafir’s meandering tangents exploring his own unstable upbringing. His father, too, only showed up a couple of times a year; later his stepdad disappeared from the family after 13 years as a father figure. Born in Canada and raised in South Florida, blue-eyed Zafir, handsomely unkempt, admits to being a child nerd, especially when it came to pretty girl Samantha Pinkus. His idol? Rambo.
Zafir doesn’t focus on one story — or one decade — for very long, jumping forward in time to a custody hearing and back to his preteen years as the new kid on the neighborhood basketball court, vulnerable and targeted as an outsider. In between, he ruminates on his relationship with his son, but we only get to know Rafi through the challenges, flaws, and flubs his father encounters. Both Rafi’s voice and personality are mostly absent. This is all about father-love, father-want, and father-need.
Part confessional, part memoir, Zafir is all-in as a performer. He’s a physical actor, using his body to full advantage in the intimate, bare space – he’s driving a car, shooting a hook shot, sweating under the pressure of a judge and, then, at the end, there’s a final mini-tour-de-force as he shuffles through a virtual album of memories, of his own childhood and his son’s, all without a single prop. In cinematic stop action, he relives a life of comings and goings, that begin and end, like the evening itself, in an airport. Zafir also displays his adeptness at accents, particularly the Israeli accent of his stepfather.
The Unaccompanied Minor details parenthood for the 21st-century road warrior – where hesitant hellos and fraught goodbyes define father and son in a disintegrated nuclear family. And, at a moment when the U.S. government is forcibly separating parents and children at our nation’s borders, The Unaccompanied Minor resonates as more than an ordinary tale of a part-time, mostly absentee father and the lies and truths he shares from his childhood and parenthood. Even those barely tracking the daily news cycle are surely aware of the unbearable consequences of breaking apart parents from children. Zafir’s story reminds viewers how consequential and precious time spent with sons and daughters is.
Running Time: 50 minutes, with no intermission.
Elan Zafir’s The Unaccompanied Minor plays July 14, 15, 18, 21, 27 and 28, 2018, at Christ United Methodist Church—900 4th Street SW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call 866-811-4111, or purchase them online.