Friday, September 18, 2015

Dramatizing History: “The Princes of Kings Road” by M.R. Hunter

Much of history leads one to the invariable musings of what ifs—a queried playground for writers to slip and slide down in its endless jungle gym of imaginings. This is no easy feat. Writers tend to magnify contexts, characters and relationships in order to best tell their story, sometimes, regardless of its truthfulness. But too little embellishment leads to didacticism.

Screenwriter and TV writer Tom Lazarus tackles a rare gem of L.A. lore between a pair of architectural giants, Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, whose contributions can still be seen throughout the city, their modernist preeminence peeking out among the mishmash of stucco, siding, or gabled gaffes, let alone the industrial heave of 1970s featureless utilitarianism. Rising to prominence, both men were born and educated within miles of each other in Vienna, before coming to America—Schindler working under the famed Frank Lloyd Wright, and Neutra invited by his then friend Schindler to join him and his wife in their new home on Kings Road in West Hollywood. Both became naturalized citizens, and both took Los Angeles by storm with their forward-thinking structures created with both function and aesthetics to work in harmony...

 Due to rivalry and intemperance on Schindler's part, the pair parted professionally and personally only to be reconnected by fate some 25 years later recovering at Cedars of Lebanon. What happened in that hospital room is open to conjecture—an invitation for a writer to fill in the blanks, rightly or wrongly, who's to say? Lazarus takes great pains to depict a sensitive, humorous and realistic portrayal of the men at the end of their lives and careers, battling it out once more, but constantly reminded of the art that directed both their trajectories—to and away from each other, with Neutra rising to fame, eclipsing Schindler by fortuitous quirks of fate.

What really happened is a story only Schindler and Neutra took to their graves. Neutra's son, Dion intimates that the men did indeed bury the hatchet, but again, we'll never really know. It doesn't matter in the hands of a skilled playwright who fashions an age-old tale of hubris, friendship, competition and forgiveness in a single 75-minute one-act, performed at a site-specific venue, designed by Neutra, his foresight evident in the simple metal light fixtures, the ceiling tiles, and the airiness of the area itself. The space is a silent character.

Inspired by watching a documentary on an architectural photographer, Lazarus has spent the last two years crafting this play about men whose contributions to the L.A. landscape is as impressive as it is important. Like any famous or public figure, however, the men itself have been relegated to Wikipedia or foot notes in architectural articles. They are but ghosts now. In "The Princes of Kings Road" they come to life, ironically at their personal ends, but ankle-biting, beseeching, and somewhere in the flimsy veil of truth and fiction, they make amends ostensibly…or perhaps, truly. And maybe, just maybe, that's the truth. One can only hope.

If the truth is stranger than fiction, then one should give high marks to Lazarus, but save some of the kudos for the three cast members, John Nielsen, Raymond Xifo and Heather Robinson. Nielsen as Schindler plays the hot-tempered skirt-chaser like an old goat juxtaposed with Xifo's frustrated but sweetly concerned Neutra. Between them, a nurse longing to be a flight attendant fusses and fancies both men with loving affection by Robinson. Schindler and Neutra could not have asked for a better representation, although they might kvetch about the audience's chairs. They were never satisfied. Ever—this made them great in everything: friendship or enmity.

It's not often that Los Angeles receives her due in terms of cultural significance. Finding the humanity is even more difficult for any writer, let alone actor. In "The Princes of Kings Road" a truth is told, shining much like the sunlight through Schindler or Neutra's impressive structures. Suddenly, a house isn't just a house but something with a soul. An office space (now museum) in Silverlake stands all these years later to welcome its designer home and his friend/rival too.

That's the magic of theater, or storytelling in any medium for that matter. We can revisit, we can orchestrate and we can hope for the good to stand in, reminding us of our present. Go see "The Princes of Kings Road" because it will change how you see L.A., and the men who built it.

"The Princes of Kings Road"
Runs Sept. 11-Oct. 4
Fri & Sat @ 8 p.m. & Sundays @ 5 p.m.
Neutra Institute and Museum of Silverlake
2379 Glendale Blvd.
Silverlake, CA 90039
Tickets: $25
Call (323) 641-7747

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