‘…Meantime at HoJo’s’ and a New Playwright for America

Reviewed by Matt Ritchey

…Meantime at HoJo’s is the third installment of Christian Levatino’s Black Bag Pentalogy and part of The Big Event – three of the Pentalogy plays running in rep – which closes December 2 in the Flight Theatre at the Complex Theatres in Hollywood.

The plot revolves around Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy’s mission to retrieve a “s%!* file” of derogatory information about the Republican Party from the DNC Headquarters offices in a hotel none of you have probably ever heard of. This, of course, leads to one of the most scandalous circumstances in recent American history. Not only is …Meantime a great pair with King Dick, another play in the Pentalogy about Elvis’s meeting with Nixon, but it’s hard to escape thoughts of “Russia” and “golden showers tape” as you watch the action unfold.

John Fusion, L.Q. Victor and Hank Doughan in MEANTIME AT HOJO'S from Christian Levitano's BLACK BAG PENTALOGY
Photo by Alex Hathaway
John Fusion, L.Q. Victor and Hank Doughan
Photo by Alex Hathaway

And you can’t take your eyes off of the action, as the script and performances are top-notch. The cast blends mainstays from the other two shows, King Dick and Sunny Afternoon, with some additional actors, all of whom are playing at the top of their game, and the script, with the exception segment about the existence of a higher being which is incredibly well-written but lulls the dramatic action, is fantastic. The set is (once again) simply and creatively maneuvered to create multiple locations and works perfectly, the dull brown of the piled file boxes evoking not only the theme of espionage, but the colorful palette of the 70’s.

The three plays in this cycle are a conspiratorial mythology of modern America. And when watching them back to back (which you can do on December 2 for the triple feature Big Event), you can see the specific connections of character, motivations, and even a long-running government conspiracy.

Which brings me to Christian Levatino.

As a playwright, he creates intricate characters who speak so plainly and with such depth that it often feels like you’re watching a staged transcription of events rather than a piece of historical fiction. Mamet is known for his often stilted but unique dialogue, Sorkin’s rat-a-tat-tat exchanges are recognizable from a country mile; to this list must soon be added Levatino, whose signature doesn’t revolve around quippy dialogue but a highly literate working-man’s aesthetic – real people in high stakes situations. His work is clearly well-researched and every moment on stage is packed with purpose. This is where his directorial skills come into play, not only as an expert in stage pictures, but the vital eye for talent and casting, bringing only the highest-caliber actors to the stage.

L.Q. Victor and Darrett Sanders 
in, MEATIME AT HOJO'S from Christian Levatino's BLACK BAG PENTALOGY. Photo by Alex Hathaway
L.Q. Victor and Darrett Sanders
Photo by Alex Hathaway

(Darrett Sanders is key in this arena as not only a brilliant performer in all three shows, but in his roles as producer, graphic and sound designer, and video editor.) Finally, as an actor, Levatino is a juggernaut and mesmerizing to watch. He plays three wildly different characters in these shows and fills them all out with intensity, humor, and pathos.

These plays – and these productions – are a prime example of how great Los Angeles theater can be. There’s only one more weekend to catch them, and I Highly Recommend doing so.

Written and Directed by Christian Levatino
THE BIG EVENT runs November 30 – December 2
Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 7pm and 9:30pm; and Sunday starting at 2:55pm

Photo (above) by Alex Hathaway: Isaak Gracia

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