If you have not seen Archduke, penned by Rajiv Joseph and directed by Giovanna Sardelli do yourself a favor and get to the Mark Taper Forum by June 4th, 2017! The only complaint I had regarding this show was that the house was not full. Such efforts deserve to be seen and to be lauded, and the only explanation seems to be that the play has been inaccurately labeled “…an immigrant drama…” Considering recent political trends there is so much of that on network news that the troupe putting up this intelligent, witty and oddly timely tale (based on actual events) are not getting the attention they and the piece deserve.
Each member of the cast brings unique elements of character and perception to the fore. This theatrical “band of the hand” represents five distinct masculine archetypes, and their hub is the singular female character of Sladjana who is both mother and “Mother Courage”. The Gavrilo character reminded me a bit of Voltaire’s “Candide”, the idealist in the face of the worst possible fate. Dr Leko is the penultimate Euro-Slavic civil servant, knowing what is “right” according to the morality he has been taught, yet unable to defend even that once his physical well-being and livelihood are challenged. “Captain” Dragutin is the bully with a vision (which of course requires the sacrifice of others to realize) and reminds me a bit of Nikita Mikhalkov’s “Burnt by the Sun ” (1994). The characters of Nedeljiko (dull-witted but attractive) and Trifko (the 1st lieutenant/enabler) nicely round out the roles that men have traditionally been taught to play.
The production design is frugal yet inventive, providing the actors details to work off of, while simultaneously allowing the audience’s imaginations the breathing space to populate the environment in ways that personalize their experience. I would have liked a bit more light however. The words are powerful in and of themselves, but I felt that some nuances of the performances were difficult to read. Then again that may be in part the fault of my eyesight. The sound interjections were all relevant and not over played. All in all it was an evening to be enjoyed and thought about.
I am so delighted that my dear friend Kimberly Jentzen invited me to tag along with her for an evening which proved to be a most pleasantly disturbing surprise!