Mix-Mix Review – Finding a Safe Haven

Angelita Esperanza, Casey J. Adler, and Alexis Camins in MIX-MIX - Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography
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Inspired by an astonishing little-known true story, MIX-MIX    tells the tale of a German Jewish boy who escapes Nazi Germany and journeys to the Philippines in search of safety during World War II. Penned by Boni B. Alvarez, MIX-MIX is based on the real-life adventure of 13-year-old Ralph J. Preissman, who came with his family to the Philippines around 1940. To quote director Jon Lawrence Rivera, “Philippines President Manuel Quezon saved over 1,000 Jews with his ‘Open Door’ policy even as most Jews were being refused entry around the world…a developing country was able to get these people out. It’s a story you don’t hear much about.” MIX-MIX is a project of the National Performance Network Creation and Development Fund. It was co-commissioned by the Skirball Cultural Center, Ma-Yi Theater Company, and Miami New Drama Fund of the Tides Foundation, among other groups.

Mark McClain Wilson, Myra Cris Ocenar, Angelita Esperanza, Jill Remez, and Giselle G. Tongi – Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

First presented as a staged reading at the Skirball Cultural Center and later a second reading late last year, MIX-MIX quickly caught the attention of Artistic Director Jose Luis Valenzuela, and – voila – The Latino Theatre Company proudly presents MIX-MIX in 2024. By the way, if you’re wondering what “Mix-Mix” means, it’s a direct English translation for the Tagalog word “Halo-Halo,” the name of a popular Filipino dessert that mixes jellies, tapioca pearls, fruit, beans, corn, shaved ice, condensed milk, and ice cream.

The Ensemble Cast – Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

Rudy Preissman (Casey J. Adler) and his family, refugees from Nazi Germany, came to the Philippines as a last resort and began to build a home and a peaceful new life in Manila, one of the few places where Jews were welcome during World War II. Then catastrophe struck: The Japanese invaded the Philippines, bringing WW II to their doorstep. They must spend years in thick Filipino jungles trying to hide from the invading Japanese army. Literally finding themselves leaping from the frying pan into the fire. As the small group of refugees and their Filipino friends slowly grew into a family of sorts, – all the while attempting to simply survive – Rudy morphed from a boy in short pants to the man he would become. MIX-MIX is the gripping true story of their years evading the Nazis and their allies in WW II, the Japanese.

Mark McClain Wilson and Casey J. Adler – Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

Jon Lawrence Rivera helms the piece with careful attention to the riveting details of their long journey to freedom. He tends to stick to the chronology of the tale, peppering it with moments which defined the journey. The large ensemble cast – including Alexis Camins, Mark Doerr, Angelita Esperanza, Kennedy Kabasares, Mark McClain Wilson, Myra Cris Ocenar, Jill Remez, and Giselle G. Tongi – inhabit each character’s body with enthusiasm (often over-the-top) and purpose. To add to the authenticity, Adler even enacts his Bar Mitzvah (in Hebrew) and a traditional funeral prayer. Unfortunately, in the effort to emphasize multiple events equally, focus is sometimes lost, and it is difficult to become emotionally involved in their plight.

Giselle G. Tongi, Alexis Camins, and Kennedy Kabasares – Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

Kudos to Christopher Scott Murillo’s scenic design; he does a bang-up job of turning the stage into a shadowy and threatening jungle, even including the occasional pond or creek. Reggie Lee’s choreography adds interest to the play as it creatively truncates conflicts in small artful spaces. Nicholas Santiago’s projections also work well in presenting flashbacks in the story.

Kennedy Kabasares, Mark Doerr, and Casey J. Adler – Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

MIX-MIX will definitely appeal to history buffs, especially those focused on WW II and those who love to ferret out little known stories. Obviously, Jewish patrons will also find the events in the piece fascinating, poignant, and perhaps even surprising. Audiences should also remember that this is a true saga, and Preissman is still alive to verify the facts.

The Ensemble Cast – Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

MIX-MIX runs through June 16, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and at 4 p.m. on Sundays. The Latino Theatre Company performs at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Tickets range from $10 to $48 (students, seniors, veterans, and LAUSD teachers $20; all Thursday night performances $10). For information and reservations, call 213-489-0994 or go online.


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