Robert Patrick, a pioneering playwright in the Off Off Broadway movement who later won wider acclaim for the 1975 Broadway staging of his play Kennedy’s Children, died in his sleep at home in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 23. He was 85.
His death was announced by Jason Jenn, a longtime friend and associate.
The Broadway production of Kennedy’s Children starred Shirley Knight, who won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress, beating out a competitive roster that included Meryl Streep, Mary Beth Hurt and Lois Nettleton.
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The play, which focused on a group of former 1960s activists reuniting and reminiscing in a Lower East Side bar, was adapted by Patrick for a 1982 TV movie that starred Knight, Jane Alexander, Lindsay Crouse and Brad Dourif, among others.
Robert Patrick O’Connor was born in Kilgore, Texas to migrant workers, later joining the Air Force for a stint cut short when a poem he wrote to a fellow serviceman was discovered. On a trip to New York City in 1961, according to Jenn, Patrick followed an attractive young man into the now-legendary Caffe Cino theater, “and found himself in the middle of a rehearsal for a play.”
“He immediately found his ‘family of friends’ and chose to remain there as an ardent devotee of that first Off Off Broadway venue,” Jenn says, “taking on various odd jobs to support himself and becoming involved in all aspects of theatrical production.”
Inspired by roommate Lanford Wilson to write a play, Patrick wrote The Haunted Host in 1964, creating what is now considered to be among the earliest modern gay plays of the early Off Broadway era. Patrick would go on to become one of the scene’s most prolific writers, with over 300 productions of his plays in New York in the 1960s.
Patrick also worked at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, another of the major Off Off Broadway theaters. In 1969, his play Camera Obscura was produced on PBS, starring Marge Champion, and was chosen to be in the playwright revue Collision Course. The publishing company Samuel French declared him “New York’s Most-Produced Playwright” in 1972.
After moving to Los Angeles in the early 1990s, Patrick mostly retired from theater but still continued to write and stage several plays. He performed his first solo show in 2013, and later created a website with thousands of photographs from hundreds of productions in New York and worldwide.
He is survived by sister Angela (aka Bunny) and many friends.
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