Thursday, June 13, 2019

Men who sparked WWI seen in 'Archduke'

Nedeljko (Adam Shonkwiler, left), Gavrilo Princip (Stephen Stocking) and Trifko (Jeremy Kahn) enjoy their train ride.

Four men behind the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo in 1914 are portrayed in Rajiv Joseph’s “Archduke,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

Three of them are hapless young men motivated more by longing for a sandwich and a warm bed than by strong political convictions. The fourth is an older man who longs for Slavic unification and manipulates them into the act that sparked World War I.

The younger men, strangers to one another, meet in a crumbling warehouse, sent there by Doc (unseen) to meet “a guy” who supposedly has a job for them.

First to arrive is Gavrilo Princip (Stephen Stocking), the eventual triggerman. Next is Nedeljko (Adam Shonkwiler), followed by Trifko (Jeremy Kahn). All three are “lungers,” meaning they have tuberculosis, a death sentence then.

Dragutin (Scott Coopwood) lectures on eastern European history for  the young men and Sladjana (Luisa Sermol).
Trifko leads them to the estate of the strutting Dragutin “Apis” Dimitrijevic (Scott Coopwood), who indoctrinates them in eastern European history in front of a giant map.

Meanwhile, they enjoy food prepared and served by the dour Sladjana (Luisa Sermol).

Once convinced of their mission, they board a luxury sleeper car for the seven-hour train trip to Sarajevo. It’s a new experience for them as they revel in touches like curtains, electric lights and, of course, food.

Ably directed by Giovanna Sardelli, TheatreWorks director of new works, the play is well acted and features strong design elements: set by Tim Mackabee, costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt, lighting by Dawn Chiang and sound by Teddy Hulsker. Jonathan Rider directed the fight scenes.

With its serious themes, including the young men’s search for meaning in their lives, the play is billed as a comic drama. However, it’s undermined by stretches of absurdism.

And even though it has been revised since seen in the company’s 2016 New Works Festival, it needs trimming such as in the talky first scene. Dragutin’s speeches could be shortened, too.

Nevertheless, the quality of the direction, acting and designs shows why TheatreWorks received this year’s Regional Tony Award. It’s a fitting tribute to the company and founding artistic director Robert Kelley, who will retire after this 2019-20 season, his 50th.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Archduke” will continue through June 30 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

For tickets and information, call (650) 463-1960 or visit

Photos by Kevin Berne