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Drivas, Robert (1938-1986)  
 
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Actor-director Robert Drivas came of age professionally following the explosion on the American scene of "method" actors Marlon Brando and James Dean. Like them, Drivas brought a provocative sexuality and an emotional intensity to his stage and screen performances at a time when the male body was being liberated as the object of the audience's gaze.

He had just made the transition from accomplished actor to successful director when his life was cut short by an AIDS-related illness.

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Drivas the Actor

Drivas was born Robert Choromokos to a Greek-American family in Chicago on November 21, 1938. (His year of birth, however, may actually have been 1936; possibly, like Tennessee Williams, Drivas shaved two years off his age when starting out professionally in order to appear more precocious.)

After attending both the University of Chicago and the University of Miami, Drivas trained in classical theater technique at the Greek Playhouse in Athens and was introduced to avant garde theater at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami Beach, where Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot enjoyed its American premiere in 1956.

Drivas made an auspicious professional stage debut as the young pharaoh in Christopher Fry's The Firstborn (1958), which starred veteran Anthony Quayle as Moses and the legendary Katharine "Kit" Cornell as the Egyptian princess who raised to manhood the infant found at the riverbank among the reeds.

He went on to act with such (in some cases, incipient) luminaries as George C. Scott, Marian Seldes, and Vincent Gardenia in Millard Lampell's The Wall (1960); Alfred Drake in Jack Richardson's Lorenzo (1963); and Claudette Colbert in Hugh and Margaret Williams' The Irregular Verb to Love (1963). Drivas won the Drama Desk Award playing opposite a similarly honored Estelle Parsons in William Hanley's Mrs. Dally Has a Lover (1962).

Drivas's relationship with playwright Terrence McNally influenced Drivas's career both on and off the stage. McNally recalls that, having seen Drivas perform in numerous plays and having been impressed by his stage presence, he invited the actor to read for the part of Sigfrid, a sexually charismatic young man who is deputized by his domineering mother, Ruby, to bring home nightly a sexual pick-up for the subsequent amusement of his cruel family in And Things That Go Bump in the Night (1965), McNally's first professionally produced play.

Whereas Sigfrid usually brings home a female partner, on the evening in question in the play he chooses a sweet-tempered yet ineffectual young gay man, Clarence, whose idealism is so viciously mocked by Ruby and her brood that he flees from the house and is electrocuted on the security fence that the family has erected around its property, causing Sigfrid to question the reliability of his mother's vision of the world.

The play proved controversial from the start. As Neal Weaver recalls, after a staff member stumbled upon a photo session to create the slides of Sigfrid and Clarence's sexual encounter that Ruby will use to humiliate Clarence, a rumor spread at the Actors Studio that a workshop production of an early version of the play would dramatize the making of homosexual pornography. The discussion that followed that first workshop performance (which did not feature Drivas) grew heated as members of the Studio debated the play's morality.

In a subsequent production at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, members of the theater's board of directors were so upset by the play's subject matter that they refused to allow tickets to go on sale, which resulted in the play being performed every evening to only a few stalwart season subscribers.

The play was vilified by the New York critics when it opened on Broadway on April 26, 1965. Nevertheless, largely appreciative audiences flocked to see it, causing the play to sell out during its short, two-week run. At one performance, however, the five-foot, ten-inch Drivas had to intervene physically when an outraged audience member attempted to pull Drivas's co-star, Eileen Heckart, off the stage and save her from appearing in "such filth."

This shared experience of the sometimes volatile nature of theater cemented Drivas and McNally's relationship both personally and professionally. While rehearsing in Minneapolis in January 1964, they became lovers, and would remain a couple for the next twelve years.

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Robert Drivas in 1973.
  
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