Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Robert Patrick has contributed poetry to several small magazines and has written articles for a number of periodicals, usually with a focus on theater, but he is known primarily for his plays. His only novel, Temple Slave (1994), is based on Caffé Cino and is partly a tribute to Joseph Cino and partly a remembrance of the “dreams, work, and hopes” of the founders of Off-Off Broadway.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Robert Patrick has one of the most fertile imaginations in the contemporary American theater, one that is impulsively freewheeling and continually surprising. Because his career has remained considerably Off-Broadway, except for his best-known play, Kennedy’s Children, he has not had to succumb to conventional Broadway formulas and has been able to give his imagination free rein. His dramatic uvre is filled with fresh, often startling ideas and striking images, all in the service of dynamic theater, rarely in familiar realistic and naturalistic traditions. Instead, for example, he creates satiric, often surrealistic farces such as The Arnold Bliss Show, which mocks the ambitions and struggles of the young actor on his way to fame and fortune, however much he may have to “sell out.” Patrick also creates brilliant stage metaphors, as in the brief but effective one-act Simultaneous Transmissions, in which United States-Soviet relations (or those of any opposing nations) are represented by two families on opposite sides of the stage. The two sets of parents simultaneously instruct their sons in the proper attitude of distrust, hostility, and aggression regarding the other family, until the play ends with the sons blindly destroying each other’s families.

Patrick has also experimented with dramatic form, as in the alternating monologues of Kennedy’s Children. Occasionally an experiment of his has anticipated a far more famous work of several years later. For example, Patrick’s Still-Love, like Harold Pinter ’s Betrayal (pr., pb. 1978), traces a love affair backward in time, though somewhat more effectively; even some scenes are broken up so that the audience views the events of one particular encounter in reverse order. In this play, Patrick involves the audience intensely, not so much in figuring out what has happened (that is, what they will discover as the...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Evans, Everett. “Revival Proves Sixties Legacy Lives.” Review of Kennedy’s Children by Robert Patrick. Chronicle (Houston), February 5, 1992. In this review of a revival of Kennedy’s Children at the Grassroots Theater Project, Evans finds in the play “interwoven monologues by five characters who exist in the same environment but never speak directly to one another.” Evans considers, however, that the play still “asks some valid questions about mixed-up American values.”

Evett, Marianne. “Playwright Robert Patrick Champions Artistic Integrity of Off-Off Broadway Theater.” Plain Dealer (Cleveland), May 19, 1989. A good, long interview article occasioned by Patrick’s classroom visits, playwriting workshops, and staged readings in Cleveland. Includes a discussion of Judas, which was performed at Case Western Reserve University in 1985. “Write what excites you,” Patrick advises his workshop participants. He also expresses his firm belief in theater and states that “it’s our only real hope of spreading any idea not already accepted.” He also discusses acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Kirkpatrick, Melanie. “Fierstein’s Gays.” Review of The Haunted Host by Robert Patrick. The Wall Street Journal, May 7, 1991, p. A16. The Haunted Host, a two-person play originally performed in 1964, was staged at the La Mama Experimental Theatre Club (ETC), with raging comic Harvey Fierstein and Jason Workman. It was performed with a new play, Pouf Positive, a forty-minute monologue by Fierstein.

Marranca, Bonnie, and Gautam Dasgupta. American Playwrights: A Critical Survey. 2 vols. New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1981. Contains a chapter on “playwright-actor-director-general factotum” Patrick, whose presence in the early days of Off-Off-Broadway are chronicled here, more in the analytical than the informational mode. Good recaps of the small, often one-person plays, such as Cornered, Camera Obscura, and Help, I Am. Kennedy’s Children, itself a fragmented play, is Patrick’s only full-length play to gain any substantial popularity.

Weeks, Jerome. “An Amusing but Superficial Look at Gay Life.” Morning News (Dallas), September 10, 1991. Patrick’s Untold Decades is compared to August Wilson’s “ongoing attempt to write a drama for each decade of the black American experience.” Two plays from the homosexual cycle, together dubbed “Homosexual Acts,” played in Dallas to mixed reviews. The plays illustrate the tendency of homosexuals to work “their way into positions of power; and they use it for their protective advantage,” Weeks says.