Neutra, Schindler and a fluke of fate

neutra-schindler-ucsb.jpgSchindler and Neutra at Kings Road house in 1925. Courtesy of the Architecture and Design Collection, Art Design & Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara.

Master modernist architects Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler had been estranged for more than 20 years when they found themselves sharing a hospital room in Hollywood in 1953. Playwright Tom Lazarus imagines what happened next in "The Princes of Kings Road," an Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA world premiere running through Oct. 4 at the Neutra Institute and Museum of Silverlake. Lazarus talked with LA Observed about Schindler and Neutra's complex relationship and the fluke of fate that reunited them. Here are excerpts from the conversation:

'So brilliant and yet so different'

princes-production.jpgLazarus says the two men met while in college in pre-World War I Vienna and then ended up together again in Southern California, where each would gain fame for his innovative designs. For five years, they worked and lived, along with their families, in Schindler's landmark Kings Road house in West Hollywood. By the time the Neutras left in 1930, the once-close friends had become bitter rivals.

"Schindler and Neutra were geniuses, so brilliant and yet so different. Schindler was an inspirational architect, an artist's architect. Neutra was an engineer's architect."

"They were absolutely different personally as well. Schindler was a rogue. His wife, Pauline, was a radical feminist." The couple's home, which had been built as an experiment in communal living, was the scene of "an avant-garde had John Cage, Anna Freud, Balinese dancers dancing to gamelan gongs. Also, Pauline believed in free love and Schindler took advantage of that."

"Neutra and his wife, Dione, on the other hand, were very conservative, not adventuresome. So it was like oil and water. And yet these guys created great things together. And all the passion of their friendship and their break-up plays out in that hospital room."

The Kings Road house designed by Rudolph Schindler / Courtesy of EST/LA

What drove them apart?

"People believe there are three big reasons for their estrangement. I'm not going to tell you what they are because that's what the body of the play is about. But what interested me was that after all this time they have a chance to let it out, to accuse, to defend, to voice the things they never got to voice because they broke up and were gone. Here, they are stuck in their beds and they have to deal with all the emotion and the baggage. It's dramatic, but it's also funny. Life is, you know, it's tragedy and it's comedy. Lines blur."

'No one really knows what happened'

Schindler, dying of cancer, was already at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital when Neutra was wheeled in, recovering from a heart attack. "No one really knows what happened in that room. We do know that the door was closed, there was German spoken and there was laughter. The rest is what I have imagined based on their history. This is an educated, researched guess."

Venue 'a wonderful gift'

Neutra's son Dion attended a public reading of "Princes" earlier this year. "Afterward," says Lazarus, "he told me, 'It's amazing how right you got it.'" He also offered the institute building as a performance venue. "It's a wonderful gift, to be in a Neutra-designed space. We have been able to tap into the institute's files, too, and are using period black-and-white photos of all the great architecture in the play and of Pauline and Dione. A tape of Dione playing the cello is the soundtrack."

As for the Schindlers, says Lazarus, "We have been in touch with the MAK Center, the Schindler headquarters now at the Kings Road house. They have an ad in our program. They are aware of our show and we are aware of their show [the current exhibition 'R.M. Schindler, the Prequel']."

How it all began

Tom Lazarus.jpgLazarus, a veteran film and television writer and director and an architecture fan, was inspired by a documentary about photographer Julius Shulman that mentioned Schindler and Neutra's friendship, falling-out and improbable reunion. Lazarus is directing "Princes," which he has worked on for two years. He developed the play with Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA as a member of its Playwrights Unit.

Photo at right: Tom Lazarus / Courtesy of EST/LA

'This is not a memory piece'

A story about two old guys in the hospital?

"The danger here was to do 'Hey, remember when?' But this is not a memory piece. The drama is in the room. It comes with all the heat of the accusations, 23 years of pent-up anger, Schindler feeling totally screwed over and Neutra not taking it sitting down. They finally get to deal with it and, hopefully, move passed it. They also have to deal with their mortality." (In 1953, both men were in their 60s. Schindler died that year, Neutra in 1970.) "They have to deal with their past and with what they thought their future would be."

"The Princes of Kings Road" is presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA with Dion Neutra and the Neutra Institute and Museum of Silverlake.

Top color photo: Ray Xifo, left, as Neutra and John Nielsen as Schindler in "The Princes of Kings Road" / Courtesy of EST/LA

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