Kenneth H. Brown, a New York playwright whose acclaimed 1963 Off Off Broadway play “The Brig,” primarily based on his experiences as a Marine, portrayed dehumanization inside a army jail through the Korean Warfare, died on Feb. 5 at a hospice in Queens. He was 85.
A good friend, the efficiency artist and author Penny Arcade, stated the trigger was most cancers.
After rising up in Brooklyn within the Nineteen Fifties as one thing of a avenue robust, Mr. Brown, wanting to serve his nation, enlisted within the Marines at 18. However stationed in Japan, he discovered himself rattled by army life and was thrown into the brig for insubordination.
There, by his account, he was humiliated and abused. Guards known as him “maggot”; he was punched within the intestine for even minor infractions. Mornings began with garbage-can lids being banged on bunk beds, and he and his fellow inmates had been ordered to jog round their claustrophobic quarters for hours till they had been breathless.
“I used to be at all times in bother within the Marines,” he said in an interview with the Lower East Side Biography Project. “I went to the brig twice. The primary time I did 25 days.” Of his army service, he stated, “By the point I received out, I used to be an entire pacifist.”
Again in New York, Mr. Brown labored as a bartender and studied at Columbia College on the G.I. Invoice. In his spare time he wrote “The Brig,” a hyper-realistic play depicting a grueling day within the lifetime of 10 imprisoned Marines and the guards who brutalize them.
Mr. Brown didn’t have any theater connections. However by way of a good friend his manuscript made its method to the Living Theater, the revered avant-garde repertory firm based within the Nineteen Forties by Julian Beck and Judith Malina. They had been captivated by “The Brig” and determined to provide it.
“I used to be a man from the neighborhood,” Mr. Brown said. “I by no means met folks like Julian and Judith.”
“The Brig” made waves when it opened in 1963 on the Residing Theater in Greenwich Village.
“If what occurs on the stage of the Residing Theater is a real illustration of circumstances within the brig, the president or his secretary of protection must order an investigation,” Howard Taubman wrote in his evaluation for The New York Instances. “Mr. Brown’s obsessive script doesn’t spare a element of the devastating indictment.”
“The Brig” turned one of many Residing Theater’s nice successes, however it additionally turned inextricably linked to the corporate due to its anarchic final efficiency there. In the course of the play’s run, the authorities shut down the playhouse for delinquent taxes, however the solid and an viewers broke into the padlocked theater for one remaining present.
“The play completed what I wished it to perform,” Mr. Brown said. “It revealed the horror of this situation, and it revealed it very clearly not by way of commenting on it, however doing it. Really performing the ritual of sadism that was the Marine Corps.”
Kenneth Howard Brown was born in Brooklyn on March, 9, 1936, to Kenneth and Helen (Bella) Brown. His mom was a financial institution officer, his father a police officer.
Rising up within the Bay Ridge part, Ken was identified to brawl with youths within the neighborhood. However he additionally wrote poems and brief tales in his teenagers whereas attending the Jesuit-run Brooklyn Prep.
After the success of “The Brig,” Mr. Brown loved the lifetime of a celebrated younger playwright. “I used to be off and operating, with grants and fellowships, educating jobs and jaunts to faraway locations,” he wrote in The New York Instances Journal in 1986. “Possibly I might make a go of it within the rarefied environment of literature.”
However “by the point the smoke cleared,” he continued, “I used to be broke.”
He went again to tending bar. He labored at Bradley’s, a jazz club on College Place, and helped run Phebe’s, a Bowery hang-out for the downtown theater crowd. In an essay printed within the Instances in 1972, he wryly addressed the realities of a author’s life within the metropolis:
“That’s proper, I’m the man who wrote ‘The Brig.’ What am I doing right here operating this restaurant? Nicely, I’ve received to pay the hire, you already know. No, I can’t get any fellowships and grants. I’ve had all of them, and no one will renew them till I make theater historical past once more. Oh, sure, it’s important to do it many times.”
However Mr. Brown stored writing. In 1970, he printed “The Narrows,” an autobiographical novel about excessive schoolers rising up in Bay Ridge within the Nineteen Fifties. “Nightlight,” a drama set in a bleak metropolis house, was staged in 1973. “Hitler’s Analyst,” a novel a couple of Park Avenue psychiatrist who treats a pair who imagine they’re Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, was printed in 2000.
Mr. Brown grew outdated in Bay Ridge, dwelling in a rent-controlled apartment handed right down to him by his mother and father, and for years he headed into Manhattan to have a tendency bar. He stored busy writing a sequel to “The Nice Gatsby” titled “Carraway,” primarily based on the character who narrates the Fitzgerald novel. (Data on survivors was not instantly obtainable.)
In 2007, lengthy after the Residing Theater’s playhouse was closed and years after the corporate started transferring from place to position, it settled into a brand new home on the Decrease East Facet. To Mr. Brown’s shock, he acquired a name from Ms. Judith Malina, then 80, who instructed him that “The Brig” can be the inaugural manufacturing.
The play’s revival was extensively publicized, and Mr. Brown savored the triumph. However as Individuals had been nonetheless reckoning with reviews of torture on the U.S. army jail at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, the revival was starkly well timed. The coincidence wasn’t misplaced on Mr. Brown.
“‘The Brig’ has at all times been related,” he stated in an interview in 2010. . “I suppose so long as there’s struggle and so long as there’s a army and particularly so long as one questions the moral proper to wage struggle.”
“It’s going to remain related,” he added, “till there’s peace all through the world.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/07/theater/kenneth-brown-dead.html Kenneth H. Brown, Playwright Greatest Recognized for ‘The Brig,’ Dies at 85