LOS ANGELES — Hounded by admirers and exhausted by their own fame, two stars tried to escape the noisy French capital for a private island vacation. They desperately needed quiet time to tend their new love and to refresh their creative well-springs.
“They set out with the highest hopes in the world, but everything went wrong,” says Diana Douglas, matriarch of the Hollywood acting clan, who writes about the doomed celebrity couple in her one-act play, “Valldemosa,” which opens Wednesday for a five-day run at the Court Theatre in West Hollywood.
Although the plot of “Valldemosa” sounds like a story plucked from Us Weekly — or even from a particularly dramatic chapter of the Douglas family history — it actually dates to the winter of 1838-39, when Frederic Chopin and Georges Sand left Paris for Mallorca. They were famous, in love — and broke. They needed peace and quiet, both to produce new work for their impatient publishers and to indulge in each other’s company under the sensual Mediterranean sun.
Instead, the skies poured and Chopin contracted terminal tuberculosis. The couple discovered how uneasily one small house supported their two star egos. Even worse, Sand’s fractious teenagers poisoned the atmosphere of romance. Her son, Maurice, resented Chopin as the latest of his mother’s lovers, while daughter Solange was enflamed by him. She became a nymphet seductress.
“It’s a very modern story,” says Douglas, who happened across the true-life tale in 1993 while staying with her son, Michael, on Mallorca, where the monastery of Valldemosa preserved Chopin’s piano and Sand’s diary from the period. As Douglas read the chronicle of disasters, a theater piece suggested itself.
“There was something claustrophobic about being there in that God-awful weather,” says Douglas “It seemed to demand a play.”
Never mind that she had never written one. “I wrote a memoir,” she counters (1999’s “In the Wings”). In addition to Sand’s diary, Douglas consulted such sources as Benita Eisler’s recent biography, “Chopin’s Funeral,” as well as an exhaustive study by pianist Alan Kogosowski. He read “Valldemosa” and judged it “accurate emotionally,” reports Douglas, and offered to give a recital to accompany performances in New York, should it transfer there.
After the period dramatized in “Valldemosa,” Sand and Chopin had a total falling out, and she skipped his funeral in 1849. (Though Solange was there.) That their time on Mallorca was their undoing seems to prove the adage that traveling together is the true test of a relationship. “Valldemosa” recounts, essentially, the vacation from hell.
“It was both the beginning and the end of their romance,” says Douglas.
— Kevin West