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Kenneth Bernard, Convention-Shattering Playwright, Dies at 90

“Sad to say the play is never more eloquent than a cage full of monkeys,” he wrote, “and never more satisfying than when it has ended.”

When “The Moke Eater” was staged in Atlanta in 1977, Helen C. Smith, reviewing for The Atlanta Constitution, was baffled. “I didn’t like the play, don’t pretend to understand much of it,” she wrote.

But those critics who got what Dr. Bernard was after recommended his work to adventurous theatergoers, as Rob Baker of The Daily News did for “The Sixty Minute Queer Show” when it was staged at La MaMa Experimental Theater Club in Manhattan in 1977 under Mr. Vaccaro’s direction.

“It is a pastiche of short skits parodying virtually every play presented at La MaMa in the past 10 years, including several of Vaccaro’s own.” he wrote. “The spoofs are outrageous but never mean, for Vaccaro’s style is to move and to provoke as he destroys, to leave us haunted after the hysteria.”

Kenneth Otis Bernard was born on May 7, 1930, in Brooklyn to Otis Bernard and Mary Travaglini. His father was a businessman and writer of Christian-themed books. His mother, an independent-minded woman, invested in lychee groves in Florida.

When his parents divorced shortly after he was born, with the Depression in full force, his mother moved to Florida for a time, leaving him in the care of the American Female Guardian Society and Home for the Friendless. Later he was taken in by relatives in Framingham, Mass., before rejoining his mother in New York when he was about 12.

Dr. Bernard earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the City College of New York and, after serving in the Army from 1953 to 1955, did postgraduate work at Columbia University, where he earned a Ph.D. in English literature.

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