1937-09-27

ROBERT PATRICK, American playwright, born; This Gay playwright, poet, lyricist, short story writer and novelist was born Robert Patrick O’Connor in Kilgore, Texas. This is how the playwright Lanford Wilson begins his introduction to Robert Patrick’s Cheep Theatricks (yes, the author’s name is part of the title): “Bob told me this introduction should begin, ‘Bob Patrick’s plays are stars shooting across the cobalt night sky – snow-flakes that for a second enhance the eyelashes of the blushing Muse!” or some such. But I really can’t capture the preposterous pop jargon that Bob nearly invented. If I did begin this introduction that way, I couldn’t finish it – not the way he would.” There’s a lot in that small paragraph, even though Wilson goes his own way after dropping it, telling us about Bob’s life in the theater – how he’s done everything from act and sing and direct to tending the door, running the lights, mop the floor, and for all we know, wash the clothes of indigent actors appearing in his plays. These are the facts, but the real Robert Patrick is in that first paragraph. For Patrick is right. His plays are shooting stars. They burn bright, brilliant, but only for a moment, retained in memory. And they are snowflakes, as many and as dazzling as the stars, no two the same. And Wilson is right to find Patrick’s language impervious to imitation. He invents the right sentence for the right occasion, and if there’s only one that’s right, he’ll find it, quickly (for he is very very fast), efficiently (for he is very very intelligent), and humorously (he is very very funny). He is also always telling you what to do (notice Wilson’s first sentence.) You’re rarely aware of his bossiness in his plays because his messages are subliminally told. Ask anyone who has just emerged from a Patrick play what he has ordered them to do and they’ll know. New York’s most produced playwright wants us simply to be good to one another, and has found a thousand star-and-snowflake ways to tell us how.

Robert Patrick is the author of over 60 published plays. His first, The Haunted Host, was produced in 1964 and premiered at the Caffe Cino. Mr. Patrick refused the offer of Neil Flanagan, the Cino’s star performer, to play the title role (because Flanagan had played Lanford Wilson’s Gay character, Lady Bright) and by default wound up appearing in the play himself with fellow playwright William M. Hoffman.

During the 1960s, Mr. Patrick was a pioneer in the Off-Off-Broadway movement and Gay theater with over 300 productions of his plays being held during this decade in Manhattan alone. He won the “Show Business” Award in 1969 for Joyce Dynel, Salvation Army, and Fog. That same year his play, Camera Obscura was produced on PBS, starring the late, lovely Marge Champion. A 1974 production of Haunted Host marked the first time Harvey Fierstein appeared onstage as a male. Years later, Fierstein included a recording of Patrick’s monologue, Pouf Positive on his CD, “This Is Not Going to Be Pretty. Positive was also filmed by Dov Hechtman in 1989.

The year 1974 saw international success for the play Kennedy’s Children, earning actress Shirley Knight a Tony award, and also the first season of Gay theatre in the U.K., to which Mr. Patrick contributed three plays. Mister Patrick toured high schools and high school theater conventions nationwide for ten years on behalf of the International Thespians Society. My Cup Runneth Over (1976) was commissioned by Marlo Thomas, for herself and Lily Tomlin, but their projected special never happened. The play went on to become Mister Patrick’s most produced. T-Shirts, first produced in 1979 and starring Jack Wrangler, was later chosen as the opening piece for William M. Hoffman’s Gay Plays: A First Anthology. Blue is For Boys was the first play about Gay teenagers, and weekends in honor of the play were declared by Manhattan borough presidents in 1983 and 1986. The Trial of Socrates was the first Gay play presented by the City of New York. Hello Bob is an account of Mr. Patrick’s experiences with the production of Kennedy’s Children. It was the last play he directed before leaving New York.

Other works by Robert Patrick include Untold Decades (1988), a history of Gay male life in the U.S. told in a humorous vein, and Temple Slave, a “totally romanticized” novel about the early days of Off-Off Broadway and Gay theatre. He has also ghostwritten several screen- and television plays, contributed poems and reviews to Playbill, FirstHand, and Adult Video News, and had short stories included in numerous anthologies. He has also appeared in the documentary Resident Alien with Quentin Crisp and also in the videos O is for Orgy: The Sequel, and O Boys: Parties, Porn, and Politics, both produced by the O Boys Network. Happy Birthday Robert!