ARCHDUKE a riveting dark comedy at TheatreWorks

L-R: Trifko (Jeremy Kahn), Gavrilo (Stephen Stocking), Apis (Scott Coopwood), and Nedeljko (Adam Shonkwiler) make plans in “Archduke,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley June 5-30 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.Photo Credit: Kevin Berne

ARCHDUKE: Dark Comedy by Rajiv Joseph. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli. Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA. or call (650) 463-1960.

June 5 –30, 2019

ARCHDUKE a riveting dark comedy at TheatreWorks. Rating: ★★★★★

TheatreWorks was recently honored being given the Tony Award for Regional Theatres. It has been a longtime coming and should have been awarded at an earlier date because of their superior production values and dedication to new works. Archduke now gracing their stage until June 30 is a stunning example of their quality and dedication. It is by multi-award winner Rajiv Joseph whose play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo became a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer. Archduke is stunning, thought provoking play that explores, surprisingly with humor, the assassination of Franz Joseph the Archduke of Austria-Hungary and his wife that was the final triggering point for World War I. It has significance in present times as a satiric exploration of the making of a terrorist.

The play had its start at the 2016 TheatreWorks New Play Festival and its world premiere at the L.A. Mark Taper Forum. Since that time there has been a major rewrite and Giovanna Sardelli was involved throughout that process and is the director for the present staging.

The time is 1914 and the place is “Zemun, Belgrade, Sarajevo and points between.”  The opening is scene is an abandon decrepit warehouse where Gavirilo (Stephen Stocking) has been advised to wait for others. He is a young Serb infected with tuberculosis. The second to arrive is the more forceful Nedelojko (Adam Shonkwiler) and the last and youngest is Trifko (Jeremy Kahn). None know the reason for being there but know they are to meet someone else. It is established that they are not only young but also hapless, impressionable living bleak lives knowing that their life expectancy is short.

The second scene is the home of Apis (Scott Coopwood), a former captain, Serbian nationalist and a member of rebellious Black Hand group. He and his aid Sladjana (Luisa Sermol) lavish the boys with attention inculcating them with the idea that specifically the Archduke is responsible for their dire plight. By doing the dastardly deed they will be giving their bleak lives meaning being hailed as patriots. Insecurity is replaced by false bravado with the shrewd lavish manipulation by Apis and Sladjana of the soon to be insurgents. There is the question of who will pull the trigger of the guns provided them.

The audience is fully aware that the assassination will take place and Joseph has inserted a scene where the young men are on a train heading for Sarajevo relishing the lavishness of their first class rail car comparing their past dull ordinary lives to the present situation. This leads to shooting played out as a codicil to the preceding events.

(l – r): Three insurgents on board a train to Sarajevo, Nedeljko (Adam Shonkwiler), Gavrilo (Stephen Stocking), and Trifko (Jeremy Kahn), reflect on the lives they’ll never get to lead, in “Archduke,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley June 5-30 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne

Stephen Stocking who played the role of Gavrilo in LA production gives a stunning performance but has to share the accolades with local favorites Jeremy Kahn and Adam Shonkwiler. Not to be outdone Scott Coopwood dominates the stage creating the epitome of evil masked in humanitarianism. Luisa Sermol gives verisimilitude and humor to her role as servant who gives Gavrilo the final lesson needed to make the “man” to do the nefarious deed.

As mentioned director Sardelli has played an integral part in the initial reading in 2016 and the rewrites after the world premiere in 2017. This is reflected in exquisite pacing of the two hours and twenty minutes (including intermission) running time with each scene being additive similar to a jigsaw puzzle. The creative team are up to or exceed their capabilities beginning with the depressive bleak warehouse set to the lavish the first class sleeper car (Tim Mackabee) with Dawn Chang’s lighting,Teddy Hulsker’s sound design and Fumiko Bielefeldt’s costumes. This is a must see production even though making the seminal event that upset the world in 1914 comedic may be questionable.

CAST: Stephen Stocking (Gavrilo), Adam Shonkwiler (Nedeljko) and Jeremy Kahn (Trifko); Scott Coopwood plays Apis; Luisa Sermol as Sladjana.

CREATIVE Team: Directed by Giovanna Sardelli; Scenic Designer Tim Mackabee; Costume Designer Fumiko Bielefeldt; Lighting Designer Dawn Chiang; Sound Designer Teddy HuJsker; Fight Director Jonathan Rider; Casting Director Jeffrey Lo; Stage Manager Randall K. Lum.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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