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.