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Review: Double Jeopardy in a Thrilling, Moving Production

“Mix-Mix: The Filipino Adventures of a German Jewish Boy,” Los Angeles Theater Center, May 9 – June 16, 2024


June 2, 2024 | By Bruce R. Feldman

 

In Brief: A play in Tagalog, German, English, and Hebrew is an uncommon thing indeed, and yet this daring linguistic feat perfectly embodies the enriching, tasty multi-cultural stew that Mix-Mix serves up with gusto and humanity. This is a marvelous, often thrilling production from beginning to end. See it before it closes on June 16.

 

Angelita Esperanza, Casey J. Adler, and Alexis Camins (Photo: Grettel Cortes Photography)


Just when you thought you knew everything there is to know about World War II, along comes Boni B. Alvarez’s engrossing tale of the Jews who fled German persecution in the 1930s – there were about 10,000 of them – for a new life in the Philippines, only to suffer a second time under the Japanese occupation of the island nation a few years later.

 

The story centers around the Preissman family – father Isaac (Mark Doerr), mother Lena (Jill Remez) and twelve-year-old Rudy (Casey J. Adler) – and several Filipino families forced out of Manila on the eve of the Japanese invasion.

 

The group must brave their way on foot, at night, carrying their belongings up sacred Mount Banahao where they hope to hide out. Japanese airplanes buzz overhead, a menacing reminder of the cruelty awaiting the refugees if they are discovered.


Theirs is a slow, tiresome, precarious journey. Tempers fray, insects and lizards annoy, personal hygiene is impossible. But mainly their pilgrimage affords playwright Alvarez an opportunity to interweave multiple cultural, social, and religious references and episodes that underscore the ways the characters are both different and similar at the same time.

 

Mark McClain Wilson, Myra Cris Ocenar, Angelita Esperanza, Jill Remez, and Giselle “G” Tongi (Photo: Grettel Cortes Photography)


This is, of course, a cliché, except that in the hands of a talent as big, inventive, and poetic as Alvarez, these universal truths feel fresh and vibrant. They resonate powerfully, indelibly as we get to know the characters, and as they get to know and learn from each other.


The action unfolds with a shimmering fable-like quality with a bit of mysticism thrown in. This works superbly, a testament to Alvarez, an insufficiently appreciated artistic treasure whose plays should have a wider audience here and nationally.


Rudy’s journey is particularly poignant. Alvarez uses flashbacks to show us his first day of school in the Philippines. The actors playing the refugees here expertly take on new identities as his teacher and fellow six-year-old-students. Later in the piece Alvarez shows us how the Jews and locals improvise a bar mitzvah ceremony when Rudy turns 13 on the journey up the mountain. It’s funny, touching, and above all filled with humanity.


Alvarez infuses his tale with multiple enlightening references, both sobering and whimsical, to Philippine history and culture. The telling of  Lapulapu’s killing of the Spanish explorer Magellan allows one character to reflect – and I paraphrase here – “So what if Magellan died? The Spanish occupied our country for 300 years, then the Americans, and now the Japanese.”

 

There’s also a hilarious nod to Philippine cinema of the 1940s, in which two of the actors (Kenney Kabasares and Giselle “G” Tongi) ham it up as the two fictional, pretentious stars of a cheesy movie, and another charming flashback of Rudy and two of his friends watching The Wizard of Oz in a Manilla theater.

 

Mark Doerr, Giselle “G” Tongi, and Jill Remez (Photo: Grettel Cortes Photography)


Director Jon Lawrence Rivera masterfully weaves all of these characters and incidents into a cohesive, impactful, emotional whole, aided in a number of scenes by the beautifully choreographed dramatic movement of Reggie Lee that is set to a haunting score of drums and gongs.

 

The unit set is spare, but it does not feel skimpy thanks to Azra King-Abadi’s terrific lighting and Nicholas Santiago’s evocative projection design. The production is just outstanding all around, showing that you don’t need a lot of money if you have a lot of talent. All of these folks do.

 

The play is a joint presentation of the Latino Theatre Co. and Playwrights’ Arena, which director Jon Lawrence Rivera also heads.

 

This inspiring, wonderful production is here for only two more weeks. Run to see it now.

 

"Mix-Mix: The Filipino Adventures of a German Jewish Boy," Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles CA 90013, (213) 489-0994, latinotheaterco.org

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