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Rajiv Joseph on How Play ‘Archduke’ Took on a ‘Whole New Meaning’ After the Election

While Hollywood hosts any number of film premieres, legit world premieres are more rare. On Sunday, Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum hosted the opening of Rajiv Joseph‘s “Archduke.”  The play was commissioned in 2010 when “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” opened at the Taper.

“Archduke” has been through several iterations since Joseph submitted the first draft. But for CTG artistic director Michael Ritchie, the play was a perfect choice to slot in its 50th anniversary slate. At the Vespaio afterparty, Ritchie said, “When you take a writer like Rajiv and this company, you can really take that risk.”

Giovanna Sardelli, who directed the play, and has collaborated with Joseph on more than a dozen others, said, “I really understand what makes him so masterful at his craft and so good. I understand his humor and I also love his ability to turn on a dime.”

While partygoers were talking about the set, including a train, Sardelli said, “It’s funny the train gets all the applause, but that map [another set piece] is something else.”

As for the play’s growth, Sardelli said: “As our own election system started to look more and more absurd, [Joseph] was interested in the absurdity of how things are a joke until they are not a joke. He’d done research by that time about World War I and learned that the people who assassinated the archduke were really clowns. It was an absurdity, it should never have happened. He just started to riff on that and the play took shape from that.”

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Joseph added, “We were actually in the middle of a workshop for the play here in Los Angeles during the election. We left one day to go vote and go see the election results and came back the next day and the play takes on a whole new meaning now, inadvertently.”

Joseph is concentrating on “Archduke” and also has another play that will be produced in Houston and directed by Sardelli. “Describe the Night” is already slated to go to the Atlantic on Broadway.

Will “Archduke” go on to Broadway? “Oh wouldn’t that be nice? We’re always planning, you just need someone else to plan with you,” Sardelli said.

“I know nothing yet, except I’m really happy with the production here. I hope it has a further life,”  Ritchie said.

Going forward, one of CTG’s goals is to challenge New York’s stage supremacy. “One of our goals is that theater in L.A. gets recognized much more than it has been in the past — the quality of the work across the city, not just us, but across the city,” he said. “A lot of the smaller theaters are really great.”

To this end, Ritchie said CTG has been in talking to the other companies. Three of the 99-seat theaters are at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City participating in its “Block Party” segment. “We brought them in, in part to expose them to a wider audience. And for our audience to see that there’s great theater scattered all over Los Angeles, and they just have to find these theaters and support them as well as much as they support us.”

Pictured from left: Director Giovanna Sardelli, playwright Rajiv Joseph, cast members Joanne McGee, Todd Weeks, Patrick Page, Ramiz Monsef, Stephen Stocking and Josiah Bania)

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