True story: In 1953, iconic L.A. architects Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler, onetime friends and business partners who had been bitterly estranged for 23 years, found themselves, by a vagary of fate, occupying the same hospital room in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital.
Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA presents a site-specific production in which playwright/director Tom Lazarus imagines what might have transpired during that reunion. Ray Xifo and John Nielsen star as Neutra and Schindler, with Heather Robinson in the role of Nurse Rothstein.
The world premiere of The Princes of Kings Road opens on Sept 12 for a four-week run at the architecturally significant Neutra Institute and Museum of Silverlake.
Neutra and Schindler, both Austrian-born, became friends while students at Vienna’s Technical College. In 1925, Schindler, who had immigrated to the U.S. a decade earlier in search of Frank Lloyd Wright, invited the newly-arrived Neutras to share the home he had designed and built on Kings Road in West Hollywood. Designed as a communal “indoor/outdoor” living space for two families, the Schindler house is recognized as his masterpiece, the first house ever built in the Modern style. In 2008, it was named #1 in a Los Angeles Times survey of architects, preservationists and professors to determine the “best houses of all time in L.A.” Rudolph and his wife Pauline lived a wildly bohemian life — perhaps one that proved a bit much for the more straight-laced Richard and Dione. The two men lived and worked together for five years, until a parting of the ways left them implacable rivals.
“When the play begins, Neutra and Schindler haven’t seen each other for decades,” explains Lazarus. “Thrown together by sheer coincidence and captive in their beds, they work through years of anger, memories and misconceptions until, with the help of their nurse, they’re finally able to evolve to a place of mutual respect and affection.”
Following several workshop readings at EST/LA’s Playwright Unit, The Princes of Kings Road was selected for inclusion in the company’s 2015 Winterfest festival for plays in development, where the audience included Dion Neutra, the architect’s son. It was Dion who suggested the play receive a production at the Neutra Institute and Museum, the office/work space designed by his father.
“Who could resist the chance to do this play in a Neutra-designed building?” Lazarus asks. “The play takes place in a hospital room; an office space with fluorescent lighting is the ideal setting.”
Music for the production is being taken from vintage recordings by late concert singer and cello master Dione Neutra, Richard’s wife. Technical direction is by Kevin Comartin and costume design is by Chuck Marso. The stage manager is Kay Foster and Stevie Stern Lazarus produces for Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA with Dion Neutra and the Neutra Institute and Museum of Silverlake.
Richard Neutra (1890-1970) immigrated to the U.S. in 1923, where he became an undisputed master of midcentury modern architecture and was one of the pioneers of California modernism. Intimately attuned to the environment, he created his unique indoor-outdoor living spaces as a corrective to the chaotic reality of modern urban life. His intention was to “place man in relationship with nature; that’s where he developed and where he feels most at home.” After fighting in World War I, Neutra and his wife Dione relocated from Austria to Germany, where he worked with architect Erich Mendelsohn. They then moved to the U.S., where Neutra briefly worked in Chicago under Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1925 they moved to L.A., where Southern California’s dramatic coastal, desert and mountain landscape, combined with the urban sophistication of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, proved to be the ideal inspiration. He designed scores of residences and office buildings during his career.
R.M. Schindler (1887-1953) studied engineering and architecture in Vienna under architectural luminaries Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos. Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1910 Wasmuth Portfolio, he went to Chicago in 1914 and began to work for Wright in 1918. Wright sent him to Los Angeles in 1920 to supervise the construction of the Hollyhock House for Aline Barnsdall, and by 1921 Schindler had established his own practice in Los Angeles at his home and studio on Kings Road. Over the course of his life, he realized 150 built works that challenged myriad architectural conventions and advanced his thesis of “space architecture.” Schindler played a pivotal role in extending Modernism beyond the orthodoxy of International Style. He was not afraid to try new things: new ways of organizing space, of playing with geometry and tectonics, of using materials, and, in the case of his own house, new ways of programming domestic space. Each decade of his work looks different – he didn’t feel compelled to maintain a signature look, but rather preferred to experiment with ideas. He was one of the first architects to act as his own contractor. Ultimately he valued art over career and money, which freed him to experiment at will but left him undervalued until well after his death.
Tom Lazarus has written eight feature films, including Stigmata, the #1 movie in America upon its release in 1995; 100 hours of network dramas; worked as a writer/producer on seven network series; ran his own cable TV series for five years; has written three books on screenwriting; is a script consultant to screenwriters around the world; has taught screenwriting at UCLA Extension for 20 years; and is a member of the Playwrights Unit of Ensemble Studio Theater/LA where two of his other plays — Do Unto Others and Silas — have also received staged readings as part of the Winterfest series.
John Nielsen (Rudolph Schindler) has previously performed in EST/LA productions of Mlle. God and The Idea Man. Other L.A. theater credits include Cages, directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera (Matrix Theatre); Christmas In Chechnya (Company of Angels); Lapin and Lapinova (Greenway Court); and The Lisbon Traviata, for which he received a Garland Award (West Coast Ensemble). Mr. Nielsen has acted in over 20 films, including lead roles in the recently completed indie horror feature Awakened and family drama Sweet Old World. Other films: Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter and Flags Of Our Fathers, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, Case 219, End Of Days and Deep Dark. TV guest spots include The Blacklist, Rizzoli & Isles, Criminal Minds, Las Vegas, Third Watch and Ghost Whisperer, as well as recurring roles on Kings and NYPD Blue. He was a series regular on Nickelodeon’s acclaimed The Secret World Of Alex Mack.
Ray Xifo (Richard Neutra) has numerous New York theater credits including City of Angels on Broadway, The Three Penny Opera and The Tempest at Lincoln Center, Black Comedy at the Roundabout and My Uncle Sam at the Public. He has performed at many regional theaters, among them the Guthrie in Minneapolis, Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and the Cincinnati Playhouse. He was most recently seen in L.A. in the title role of Luigi, an Inkwell Theatre production at the VS. Theatre. Selected feature film credits: Oceans 13, The Island, Fallen, Angie and, most recently, Hello – My Name Is Frank. TV: guest starring roles on Law & Order LA, Becker, Star Trek, Touched by an Angel, Total Security and Star Gate.
Heather Robinson (Nurse Rothstein) has appeared in EST/LA’s Doesn’t Anyone Know What a Pancreas Is?, Mlle. God and The Last Seder, and worked extensively with EST in New York. She appeared in Theatre Tribe’s The Sleeper and Heralds, and in the workshop production of her two short plays Two Virgins in Togas… and Imagining Amelia. She has appeared in the independent films American Desi, Mothers in Tuition, A Second of Pleasure, Slice and Nemeses Bird, among others. Heather wrote and stars in the short film Boyfriend and co-created the webseries The Half-Assed Homemaker.
The Princes of Kings Road runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m., Sept. 12 through Oct. 4.
There will be one preview performance on Friday, Sept. 11 at 8 p.m.
All tickets are $25.
The Neutra Institute and Museum of Silverlake is located at
2379 Glendale Blvd. Silverlake, CA 90039.
For reservations and information, call (323) 641-7747 or go to www.ThePrincesofKingsRoad.co
Written and directed by Tom Lazarus
Starring John Nielsen, Heather Robinson and Ray Xifo
Produced by Stevie Stern Lazarus
Presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA with Dion Neutra and the Neutra Institute and Museum of Silverlake