From left, Jeremy Kahn, Stephen Stocking, Scott Coopwood and Adam Shonkwiler appear in “Archduke,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley in Mountain View. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

From left, Jeremy Kahn, Stephen Stocking, Scott Coopwood and Adam Shonkwiler appear in “Archduke,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley in Mountain View. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

TheatreWorks wins Tony, opens Rajiv Joseph’s ‘Archduke”

South Bay troupe celebrates 50 years with regional award, premiere

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley ended its 49th season with a Tony Award for Regional Theatre — the fourth such honor bestowed to a Bay Area company — and the Northern California premiere of “Archduke” by Rajiv Joseph.

For Joseph, author of the taut and tantalizing power-swapping drama “The North Pool,” the production is a bit of a homecoming. That play premiered at TheatreWorks in 2011, and they produced his “The Lake Effect” in 2015. “Archduke” was developed at their New Works Festival in 2016 before premiering at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles the following year.

Joseph takes an unexpectedly playful tone here, as he wraps a cult-of-personality exploration around a political history parable about domestic terrorism set against the start of the first World War. Despite its subject matter, the play reaches for comedy throughout. The result is a your-mileage-may-vary experience, though the June 8 opening night audience laughed appreciatively for much of the performance.

“Archduke” starts in an abandoned archive, collapsing into itself and strewn with the debris of long conflict. It’s the first of two magnificent designs by Tim Mackabee, and its hollow yet hallowed tone is metaphorically perfect for a beleaguered Europe on the cusp of dramatic change.

One at a time, Stephen Stocking (Gavrilo), Adam Shonkwiler (Nedeljko) and Jeremy Kahn (Trifko) enter for a clandestine appointment. Upon discovering each other, they warily exchange information and spar over social and political ideologies while grappling with newfound medical realities. The sequence, as directed by Giovanna Sardelli, has a “Who’s on first?” rhythm with a “Waiting for Godot” patina.

They are quickly whisked to the lair of Dragutin “Apis” Dimitrijevic, a Serbian nationalist who believes regime change via the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and, importantly, his wife Sophie is the only solution for his country’s desperate state.

Scott Coopwood gives an expansive and athletic performance as Apis, the delusional yet charismatic power behind the plot. He prowls the stage, leaping on tables, bellowing and bullying, pontificating and proselytizing. He psychically seduces his three stooges to regicide with a sinewy, serpentine charm shot through with dictatorial confidence and a manipulative grace Machiavelli would approve.

He’s abetted by Luisa Sermola as his erstwhile servant Sladjana, whose comically weary ”Yes, master!” deadpans and power-grabbing over the timing of dessert belie the more sinister role she will later play.

The play ends with the three buffoons on a train ride to history, revealing the second Mackabee scenic masterpiece. Non-spoiler alert: They carry out their mission. However, why they do it and what their journey means remains a head-scratcher.

Upon accepting the Tony in New York, TheatreWorks’ founding artistic director Robert Kelley, board president Judy Heyboer and executive director Phil Santora thanked those who bestowed the honor.

“This award is for generations of collobarators who have grown TheatreWorks for 50 years,” said Kelley, in his final year in the post, who acknowledged the many writers and composers responsible for creating 70 world premieres and developing hundreds of new works.

TheatreWorks joins American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and The San Francisco Mime Troupe on the list of Bay Area winners of regional Tonys.

REVIEW

Archduke

Presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes June 30

Tickets: $40 to $100

Contact: (650) 463-1960, www.theatreworks.org

Theater

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation intended to help California schools reopen. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Newsom signs $6.6 billion school reopening legislative package

By Eli Walsh Bay City News Foundation Gov. Gavin Newsom and state… Continue reading

Recology executives have acknowledged overcharging city ratepayers. (Mira Laing/2017 Special to S.F. Examiner)
Recology to repay customers $95M in overcharged garbage fees, city attorney says

San Francisco’s waste management company, Recology, has agreed to repay its customers… Continue reading

A construction worker watches a load for a crane operator at the site of the future Chinatown Muni station for the Central Subway on Tuesday, March 3, 2021. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli / Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Major construction on Central Subway to end by March 31

SFMTA board approves renegotiated contract with new deadline, more contractor payments

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Settlement clears path for all youth, high school sports to resume in California

John Maffei The San Diego Union-Tribune All youth and high school sports… Continue reading

Most Read