Tuesday, October 20, 2020

"Operation: Immigration" streaming from Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company

One of the hits of last year's Minnesota Fringe Festival was #TCTheater artist Avi Aharoni's solo show Operation: Immigration, which was the highest selling Fringe show at Mixed Blood. Now, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company (where Avi has frequently performed) is offering an updated and filmed remount of the show as part of their 2020-2021 season, entitled "Theater Six Feet Apart." Avi and the creative team (including director Robert Dorfman, cinematographer Ryan Melling, sound designer Reid Rejsa, and lighting designer Todd M. Reemtsma) have done a great job transferring the on-stage show to a filmed production. One of the great things about the Fringe show is that Avi played very well off of the live audience, which of course is gone here. But he's still very personable as he tells the story of his twice-immigrant father, an Iranian Jew, and how delving into this story has influenced his own identity. One thing that remains true about this updated version of the show is this, that I wrote in my review last year: "This is a fascinating and inspiring immigrant story, about a man who sacrificed his whole life for his family's safety and security. But even more than that, it's a love letter from a son to a father, one that it was a privilege to witness."

photo taken of my TV,
as seen on @cherryandspoon Instagram
If you've ever seen a solo show at the Fringe, you'll know it's pretty much just one person standing on stage talking. Avi's show was a bit more dynamic as he moved around the space and utilized props and music, but in general, a solo stage show may not be the most exciting thing to film. They made a smart choice in not simply filming a stage performance, instead the camera follows Avi around a beautiful green backyard, which slowly changes from full sunshine to dark of night. There's also some cool camera work that results in two or three Avis on screen at once, and some sound effects to emphasize certain points. He still uses the hand-written signs on an easel to demarcate the sections of the show, and still talks to the audience, even though we can't talk back (or rather, he can't hear us talking back). It really feels more like a film, an episode of a docuseries about immigrant stories perhaps, than a staged show. It's an appropriate and well-done use of the medium of film-as-theater.

The story itself, regardless of format, is a compelling one. Avi's father immigrated with his family from Iran to Israel at the age of 13, or 15 (who's counting), where he immediately began working to help support the family. After the painful end of his first marriage, Avi's father met Avi's mother, a Jewish woman from Minnesota living in Israel. The couple eventually moved their family to Minnesota for the same reason most immigrants come here - to provide a better life for their family. Avi compares his father's life and travels to his own amusing adventures, living for a time in Israel and New Zealand, and like any son who reveres his father, he feels like he comes up short in comparison. But the ability to tell one's own story, and the story of others who are unable to tell it themselves, in an engaging and relatable way that engenders empathy and understanding from an audience, is also a very worthwhile skill and accomplishment.

If you missed Operation: Immigration at the Fringe last year, this is your second chance to see this hit show. And even if you did see the stage version, it's definitely worth revisiting this funny and moving story in a different but equally compelling format. The film is streaming at designated times; you can purchase a ticket for one of the five remaining times here.