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Patrick, Robert (b. 1937)  

Mainstream critics and historians often ignore his work, but Robert Patrick is a founding father of gay drama in America and an influence in the development of gay drama in England. A number of his contemporary and younger playwrights have been touched and influenced by his work.

Born in Texas in 1937, raised in various places in the South and Southwest, Robert Patrick's real life began when he arrived in New York in the mid-1960s and found his way to the Caffe Cino, where both off-off-Broadway and gay theater in America were born.

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Patrick, then known to his friends as Una O'Connor, worked by day as a typist in the city morgue but after dark threw himself body and soul into the Cino, as actor, stage hand, publicist, comanager, and playwright. His first play, The Haunted Host, was produced at the Cino in 1964.

After Joe Cino's death in 1967, Patrick, who had already written dozens of plays, moved his base of operation to the Old Reliable Tavern Theatre in the East Village and, occasionally, to La Mama, the center of downtown theatrical experimentation.

By the late 1960s, he was produced off-Broadway and once, with Kennedy's Children, briefly on Broadway. When London's Gay Sweatshop began presenting plays in 1975, two of Patrick's plays, One Person and The Haunted Host, were included in the first season. (Kennedy's Children had been produced in London in 1974.)

Patrick's early work reflects the restless experimentation with theatrical form of the late 1960s. Monologues, musical extravaganzas, television parodies, nudity, drag, and camp humor fill his varied early work. Yet Patrick is at his best in his more conventional plays, which satirize the many ways gay men, trained to hate themselves, avoid the possibility of love.

Patrick's best work offers the most hilarious, savage satires we have of gay life in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. He was, in his heyday, Greenwich Village's Ben Jonson.

T-Shirts (1978) pictures the sexual marketplace of gay society as "a conglomerate as heartless as Con Ed," in which youth and beauty are the only currency. In T-Shirts, Patrick dramatizes a conflict between a handsome hunk and a cynical, flamboyant queen that results in a tie in which both learn about the compromises they have made.

In The Haunted Host (1964), a playwright, determined to avoid repeating a disastrous past relationship, is visited by the spitting image of his beautiful ex-lover and realizes that he has shut himself off from the possibility of love.

Patrick can also, as he does in the one-act plays contained in Untold Decades (1988), celebrate the ways in which gay men have managed to love in times of repression and, recently, epidemic.

Patrick's self-portraits appear throughout his work, never more poignantly than in his best-known play, Kennedy's Children (1973), in which, in alternating monologues, five denizens of a bar recollect where they were the night John F. Kennedy was murdered. Sparger, a sometime drag queen and gay actor in a welter of experimental theater events, recounts the history of a thinly disguised Caffe Cino, which for him represented the 1960s.

Patrick now lives in California and still writes constantly. His latest work is a novel, Temple Slave (1994), which chronicles the years of Caffe Cino.

John M. Clum

     

 
zoom in
A portrait of Robert Patrick by Andrew Caldwell.
For more images of Robert Patrick and Caffe Cino, please visit The Official Website of Robert Patrick at http://cheeptheatricks
.blogspot.com/.

  
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    Bibliography
   

Patrick, Robert. The Haunted Host. Homosexual Acts: A Volume of Gay Plays. Ed Berman, ed. London: Inter-Action, 1975.

_____. Kennedy's Children. New York: Random House, 1976.

_____. Mercy Drop and Other Plays. New York: Calamus Books, 1979.

_____. Robert Patrick's Cheap Theatricks. New York: Winter House, 1972.

_____. T-Shirts. Gay Plays: The First Collection. William M. Hoffman, ed. New York: Avon, 1979.

_____. Untold Decades: Seven Comedies of Gay Romance. New York: St. Martin's, 1988.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Clum, John M.  
    Entry Title: Patrick, Robert  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 23, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/patrick_r.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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