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‘Operation: Immigration’ explores identity and love; Ijeoma Oluo at ‘Talk of the Stacks’

ALSO: MNspin adds more albums; how to help the arts, right now; John Lennon Tribute featuring Curtiss A streaming from First Avenue; and more.

Avi Aharoni in “Operation: Immigration.”
Avi Aharoni in “Operation: Immigration.”
Photo by Sarah Whiting

Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company says its “Operation: Immigration” is “back by popular demand,” and we believe them. Avi Aharoni’s absorbing, touching and entertaining one-man show is for anyone who’s an immigrant or descended from immigrants, meaning anyone who isn’t Native American. If you missed its original run in October, you have more chances to see it starting this Thursday, Dec. 10.

We last saw Aharoni in Dark & Stormy’s Dec. 2019 remount of “The Norwegians,” a black comedy in which the striking Jewish actor played a striking Norwegian killer-for-hire named Gus. And before then in MJTC’s “Natasha and the Coat,” playing a Hasidic man. (For that role, he grew his beard out for eight months.) He’s a powerful performer; in “The Norwegians,” he held his own against Luverne Seifert.

In “Operation: Immigration,” an award-winning 2019 Fringe Festival hit revisited and expanded at MJTC’s request, Aharoni plays himself in search of himself, a journey he takes by uncovering his father’s life.

Robert Dorfman directed this filmed version, set in someone’s large backyard. Parts were filmed at night, which allowed for lighting that gives the impression we’re in a club or at a Fringe show. Aharoni’s costumes are a series of issue-themed T-shirts: Love Is Love, Resist, DACA, Police the Police, Nevertheless She Persisted, Immigrant.

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Aharoni’s story begins with his grandfather, a Jew who lived in Iran in a time “when Iran was not anti-Semitic.” After WWII, he moved his family to Israel. Avi’s father, still a teenager, earned money planting trees, then got a job in construction. Insisting that his younger brothers stay in school, he became a steelworker, a chicken seller, a restaurant owner, a medic. Along the way, during one of several wars, he learned to operate an antiaircraft gun.

Avi’s father married and had four children by his first wife. Meanwhile, his second wife, Avi’s mother, was growing up in Rochester, Minnesota. Aharoni tells us how and where they met (hint: in prison) and why they moved from Israel to south Minneapolis, where he was born.

It’s an almost unimaginable litany of hard work, resilience, sacrifice and devotion. Of immigrating twice to foreign lands: from Iran to Israel, from Israel to Minneapolis, “from no running water to computers in our pockets.” With an eighth-grade education.

Aharoni wants us to know that this is not just a story of an immigrant, but of a man whose life was giving back: to his parents, siblings, kids, and country. A man with “heat emanating from his heart” who could make his family feel “protected against everything.” It’s wonderful to hear a son talk about his father with so much love. It must have been crushing — it must still be crushing — that his father died five years ago.

Aharoni acknowledges that he doesn’t think his father ever wrestled with the notion of who he was or how others saw him. That he probably didn’t wonder about his heritage or place in society. Those are questions many of our parents and grandparents didn’t ask. They were too busy or it didn’t occur to them. Or maybe they asked, but not out loud and never around the kids.

Finding, understanding and defining one’s identity are signature concerns of our times. Throughout “Operation: Immigration,” Aharoni shines the light on his father, then turns it briefly on himself, then back to his father, then himself. At the start of the play, he raps about his “this is how I feel vs. this is how I’m viewed insecurities.” He later wonders aloud, “Was my family Israeli or Persian?” “Where do I fit?” “Am I white? POC? Both? Neither?” He asks us, the audience, “How do you view me?” And he answers his own question: “My father’s son.”

Highly recommended. Available at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10; 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12; 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13. Tickets $15.

MNspin adds 93 albums to its online collection

What’s MNspin? It’s like a mini-Spotify or Apple Music, except it’s Minnesota-centric and free (with no advertising). Plus — and this is a big one — artists whose albums are featured get paid a $200 stipend.

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Launched in December 2017, MNspin is a music streaming platform from the Hennepin County Library. To listen, go to the website, find an album you want to hear and click on it. To download individual songs or whole albums, you’ll need a library card, also free. Don’t have a library card? Get one here. Because COVID, you can apply for an e-card.

With the new additions, MNspin has more than 300 albums in 18 genres and literally thousands of songs. Who decided on the latest 93 albums, chosen from more than 400 submissions? Seven community curators including Katie Condon (MacPhail/MPR), Amber ACE Cleveland (hip-hop impresario), Molly Maher (singer/songwriter), Cyn Collins (KFAI’s “Spin with Cyn”), Dumont Doumbe and Jacques Elate-Joss (cofounders of Douala Soul Collective) and Krista Wax (KFAI’s “MSP Sound”).

These albums have just been added to MNspin.
These albums have just been added to MNspin.
This year’s artists include Annie and the Bang Bang, Corpse Reviver, Erik Koskinen, iLLism, Kiss the Tiger, Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, Nirmala Rajasekar, Nur-D, Pert Near Sandstone, Sean Anonymous, Venus de Mars and the Okee Dokee Brothers, to name a few. An eclectic combination of established and emerging. Here’s a sampler.

The next submission period is Feb. 17-March 24, 2021. FMI.

Want to help the arts? Do this

Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, our statewide arts advocacy organization, would like us all to contact our members of Congress today, right now, this minute, because:

The U.S. House has now passed two COVID-19 relief bills that have seen no viable action in the U.S. Senate. In the last 24 hours, there have been renewed bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill that some relief may be passed in the next several days, but we need to urge support for relief that will sustain the arts sector’s unique capacity to support the U.S. economy, uplift the human spirit, and provide lifelong learning.

Americans for the Arts has made it easy as pie to write to Minnesota’s senators and your representative. Go here, enter your ZIP and click Continue. Enter your street address and click Continue. Click the boxes beside your legislators’ names and click Compose Message. Complete the form and click Send Message. Need language? Go here, scroll down, cut-and-paste.

To contact Minnesota senators and representatives by phone, call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you. If you’d rather do the dialing, here are the senators and here are the representatives.

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The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

Vie Boheme
Courtesy of the Jungle Theater
Vie Boheme
Available starting tonight (Tuesday, Dec. 8) at 7 p.m.: Jungle Theater: Jungle Serial: Vie Boheme: Centerplay. The former TU dancer’s multilayered production – a one-woman, evening-length show of song, dance, theater, spoken word and live music, all in service to stories of Black women – was first seen at the Southern in 2018. It was scheduled to return to the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio starting March 20, but that didn’t happen. So Vie Boheme has adapted part of her creation for the Jungle Serial, a set of three audio dramas with music. Featuring Nathan Keepers and Dame-Jasmine Hughes, with music by Sean Mason. FMI and tickets ($50 virtual fall bundle, $25 Jungle Cares package).

Ijeoma Oluo
Courtesy of Ijeoma Oluo
Ijeoma Oluo
Tonight (Tuesday, Dec. 8) at 7 p.m.: Friends of the Hennepin County Library: Talk of the Stacks: Ijeoma Oluo. The author of the #1 bestseller “So You Want to Talk About Race” will present her latest, the memoir “Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America.” About this wide-ranging cultural history, the New York Times had this to say: “For many, this book will appear to be a closed fist, but for the keen eye, it is an open hand.” 7 p.m. Free, with registration required. FMI and registration.

Tonight (Tuesday, Dec. 8) at 7:30 p.m.: First Avenue: 41st Annual John Lennon Tribute featuring Curtiss A with a little help from his friends. While we can’t all gather to see this show – an annual tradition since the day Lennon died – it will go on, streaming live from the First Avenue stage. FMI and tickets ($15). Available for viewing for 72 hours following the broadcast.

The 41st Annual John Lennon Tribute featuring Curtiss A with a little help from his friends will be streamed live from the First Avenue stage.
Courtesy of First Avenue
The 41st Annual John Lennon Tribute featuring Curtiss A with a little help from his friends will be streamed live from the First Avenue stage.
Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m.: Playwrights’ Center: Ruth Easton New Play Series: “No Cure” by Jake Jeppson. A reading of a new play by Playwrights’ Center core writer Jake Jeppson, whose plays deal with tough stuff – grief, loss, family secrets, strained relationships and, in this case, cancer. Free, with registration required. FMI and registration.

Thursday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m.: The Dakota: Robert Robinson’s Gospel Holiday: Raise the Roof and Touch the Sky. The great gospel singer will star in the first of 10 December shows designed to brighten our holidays. Many will be livestreams. FMI and tickets ($15). See the whole December line-up here.