Archduke Review - The Three Stooges Go to Sarajevo

Award-winning playwright Rajiv Joseph got hooked on the World War I era, especially because he couldn’t help noticing that WW I seemed to be a “…sort of gateway between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries.” The idea was intriguing, so that it is not surprising that Joseph should find the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which many agree was the trigger to WW I, worth some study. His explorations also forced him to look more carefully at Gavrilo Princip, the assassin. Thus ARCHDUKE was born.

Stephen Stocking, Patrick Page, Ramiz Monself, and Josiah Bania - Photo by Craig Schwartz

The time was 1914, and the place was Serbia. Gavrilo (Stephen Stocking) has just received the earth-shattering news that his body is tuberculosis-ridden and that he may have less than a year before his final breath. This gentle virgin has never really lived, and now he has received a death sentence from Dr. Leko (Todd Weeks). But it seems that fate – and certainly Dragutin “Apis” Dimitrijevic (Patrick Page) – has other plans for him.  Three young men not quite out of their teens and each suffering from terminal consumption, Gavrilo, Nedeljiko (Josiah Bania), and Trifko (Ramiz Monsef) have been earmarked for Dimitrijevic’s assassination team.

Stephen Stocking - Photo by Craig Schwartz

But these are simple lads without any real life experiences and with little or no interest in politics – and they must be radicalized by an eager Dimitrijevic to prepare them for his future plans. As the three stumble and bumble through their “lessons” about the evils of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Dimitrijevic almost gives up hope. They are more interested in the excellent food prepared by the sly and outspoken Sladjana (Joanne McGee) than they are in killing anyone – or themselves, for that matter. And besides, Gavrilo has fallen in love with a skeleton used to train medical students.

Stephen Stocking and Todd Weeks - Photo by Craig Schwartz

And so it goes. Even while the kids are on a train to meet their fate in Sarajevo, they are still unfocused hayseeds without the least idea of why they agreed to go on this journey. A piece de resistance black humor tale, ARCHDUKE proves to be hilarious and offers almost constant opportunities to laugh about what history will deem a very serious and portentous event. Only in the last few minutes of the piece does playwright Joseph change pace from a rollicking comic tale into a tragedy. Coming as this change does in the last moments of the production, the transition is eerily abrupt.

Ramiz Monsef, Josiah Bania, and Stephen Stocking - Photo by Craig Schwartz

The ARCHDUKE cast does an excellent job of portraying each of the roles and gives the audience frequent opportunities to chuckle. The three lads add just enough clownish slapstick to highlight their total absence of malice, and the manipulative Dimitrijevic projects just enough frustration to make him human. Tim Mackabee’s scenic design and Denitsa Bliznakova’s costumes capture the period with authenticity. The luxurious train in the second act is a stand-out and deserves special kudos. Lap Chi Chu’s lighting is also effective – especially in the final moments of the play. Daniel Kluger’s sound and composition offer depth to the production. In fact, the entire production team did outstanding work. ARCHDUKE delves into some little-known facts about a very famous event with panache and humor.

Stephen Stocking and Joanne McGee - Photo by Craig Schwartz

ARCHDUKE runs through June 4, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Mark Taper Forum is located at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets range from $25 to $95. For information and reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online

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