Born in Texas in 1937, Robert Patrick O’Connor, as well as being part Native American, was a product of the Dust Bowl. He and his two older sisters spent their childhood moving around the Southwest with a father who worked as a rigger in the oil fields and a mother who waited on tables. Of greater influence, however, was the popular culture of Patrick’s childhood, especially motion pictures, which find their way into many of his plays in references to specific films and stars as well as in familiar story lines and such devices as song-and-dance numbers.
After three years at Eastern New Mexico University and a stint in the United States Air Force, Patrick traveled to New York in 1961. There he wandered by chance into a rehearsal at the Caffé Cino, founded and run by Joseph Cino. He thought that all the repetition common to a rehearsal was part of the real play, and he became entranced with such a new method of theater. He stayed with Caffé Cino until 1968, when Cino committed suicide.
Unlike many playwrights, Patrick came to writing through practical experience in the theater. He spent three years in the Off-Off-Broadway milieu of Caffé Cino, waiting on tables, running errands, and eventually stage managing, before his first play was produced there. In fact, Cino wanted him to stick with stage managing, at which he excelled, rather than take a risk with playwriting. Fortunately, another budding young playwright, Lanford Wilson, persuaded Cino to consider Patrick’s work, and The Haunted Host was produced in 1964.
Although many of Patrick’s contemporaries, including Wilson, Sam Shepard, and David Rabe, are far better known, Patrick has remained loyal to his roots—the grassroots kind of theater in which everyone is involved in all aspects of production. He resigned from his position as artistic director of the Fifth Estate Theatre in Hollywood when Actors’ Equity began to propose...
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