Theater review: Lots of reasons to experience ‘Archduke’

Who knew that the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria — the event that reputedly triggered the start of World War I — could be so ridiculously witty?

Apparently playwright Rajiv Joseph (“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” “The Lake Effect”) did, and after many revisions and a life-altering trip to Sarajevo, came up with the current version of “Archduke,” which runs through June 30 at the Mountain View Center of the Performing Arts.

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley has been a staunch supporter of Joseph’s creation since it was produced as part of the company’s 2016 New Works Festival. Since that time, it’s gone through many iterations so that the current version is more cogent — and still very impossible-but-kinda-true.

What “Archduke’s” opening-night audience wasn’t prepared for was all the slapstick humor that came along with this particular data point of history.

Though the playwright deserves much credit for coming up with his wacky view of a historical turning point, the five fine actors in the TheatreWorks’ production — guided by the steady, discerning direction of Giovanna Sardelli — are what bring it to life.

As Gavrilo, the ordinary guy whose shot was heard round the world, Stephen Stocking brings a whole litany of poignant touches to his role. As he first walks on stage, he looks like a mousy, frightened man calling out “Hey,” and hoping to meet up with a “guy” who is supposed to help him find the “meaning of life.” Gavrilo has just come from a doctor who told him he’s dying of consumption (tuberculosis), with maybe only a month — or a year — to live. And when he coughs up blood into a unusual lace handkerchief, the audience thinks that this will be a sad scene.

It’s not.

Enter Nedjelko (Adam Shonkwiler), also young, also looking for a “guy” who says he’s going to give him a job – and also dying of TB. Shonkwiler’s Nedjelko is a litany of tics, twitches and other peculiarities. The way he hops around the stage, fearful of just about everything in life, is endearingly funny.

That’s when a relaxed, suitcase-carrying young man (Jeremy Kahn as Trifko) shows up. He is the “guy” the other two have been waiting for, though they haven’t a clue of what’s ahead for them when the trio leaves for a “house in the woods.”

Trifko has been sent by Apis, or The Captain, a political zealot who is recruiting “lungers” — young men with TB who he believes he can convince to sacrifice their lives for the cause of Slavic unification.

Scott Coopwood as the close-to-villainous yet willfully capricious Captain is a force to be reckoned with. He’s, by turn, loopy, playful, unsettling, beguiling and — most often — devious.

The dreary warehouse set of scene one swivels almost effortlessly to reveal a gargantuan map of Europe, with Austria and Hungary front and center — and the relatively small country of Serbia to one side. Resplendent in his black and golden captain’s uniform — with knee-high shiny black boots, the Captain tells his …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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