In a story that proves real life is often stranger than anything Hollywood could invent, consider the relationship between architects Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler.
They were college friends in Austria who reunited in 1925 in Los Angeles where they would design buildings that are considered masterworks of modern architecture.
They lived together here with their wives in Schindler's famous house on Kings Road in West Hollywood. A falling out destroyed their relationship, only to see it rekindled as fate brought both men together decades later in a hospital room.
That story is now the basis for a new play, "The Princes of Kings Road." Actors John Nielsen and Ray Xifo portray the two elderly architects thrown together by fate. They spend most of the play on stage in hospital beds.
"We only have to block with our heads and arms," says Nielsen during a break from rehearsal.
"It’s a wonderful challenge — I’m in bed, how do I make it work?" adds Xifo, before Nielsen chimes back in: “He’s Italian, I’m from Brooklyn, so we speak with our hands and arms anyway.”
Writer-director Tom Lazarus came up with the idea based on one small anecdote from a TV documentary: "It mentioned that Schindler and Neutra had a 23-year gap in their relationship. They went from friends, to partners, then bitterly estranged. And then, by coincidence, Schindler lay dying and they wheel Neutra in, and I said to my wife, 'That’s a play.'"
Schindler and Neutra covered Los Angeles with their Modernist designs, primarily working between the 1920s and '60s. The house Schindler built that these two Austrian immigrants shared for many years was once voted "The Best House of All Time" by an L.A. Times survey of local architects. And it’s at that Kings Road enclave where things got interesting. In their bohemian, partner-swapping era, Neutra was the observer, Schindler the instigator — all great stuff for any playwright.
“Schindler’s wife was very modern,” says Lazarus, "the guiding light to the hijinks. She believed in free love. Schindler was a womanizer, and I had to control myself as a writer to not spend all my time there, because it was so commercial and so wonderful.”
And that’s when coincidence again stepped into this story. As Lazarus was workshopping the script, Neutra’s son — an architect himself — happened to get wind of the project.
“Five minutes before curtain, one of the actors came to me and said, 'Dion Neutra is outside and wants to talk to you.' And my heart leaped out of my chest. He and his wife came in and sat in the first row, and at the end, I walked over to him and he said, 'You got it amazingly right.'"
It worked out so well that Dion Neutra offered up one of his father’s building to stage the play. So on September 12th, the story of two best friends who couldn’t have been more different will see its debut at the Neutra Institute and Museum of Silverlake.
"The Princes of Kings Road" runs from Sept. 12 to Oct. 4. For more information, visit www.ThePrincesOfKingsRoad.com.