Henry D. Knower Jr., 72, playwright, director taught college theater

May 24, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Henry DuBarry Knower Jr., a playwright who had been chairman of the dramatic and performing arts department at Goucher College, died of an inoperable brain tumor Friday at his Upper Marlboro home. The former Towson resident was 72.

Dr. Knower -- who was known as "Barry" -- was born in Birmingham, Ala. After his father's death and his mother's subsequent remarriage to a career military officer, he was raised at military installations around the nation.

He was a graduate of Pomfret School in Connecticut and earned a bachelor's degree in modern languages in 1954 from Princeton University.

"He had gone to Princeton to study chemical engineering and got involved with the theater. He was a member of the Triangle Club, where he co-wrote the books and lyrics for several shows, including Ham 'n' Legs," said his wife of 42 years, the former Rosemary Hankins, an actress.

After serving in the Army for two years at the Pentagon, he enrolled at the Yale School of Drama and earned a master's degree in 1959 in directing. In 1972, he earned his doctorate in theater literature and history from the University of Denver.

Dr. Knower began his career in 1959 as artistic director of Town Theatre in Columbia, S.C., and it was there that he met his future wife, who was auditioning for a role in Macbeth.

Dr. Knower taught theater and directed plays at what is now Marywood University in Scranton, Pa., Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point and the University of Tennessee before coming to Goucher in 1975.

"Goucher wasn't coed in those days, and he wanted to do plays at Goucher that would challenge them. He felt very keenly about strong roles for women. He selected plays where they could look at themselves and saw what was possible," Mrs. Knower said.

"He did an all-women Waiting for Godot and Fantasticks and believed in cross-gender casting before that became fashionable," she said.

"Barry did well at Goucher," said former college President Rhoda Dorsey. "In a recommendation I wrote for him when he left in 1988, I said that `under less than ideal circumstances, Barry Knower worked hard for dramatics and Goucher. He taught a wide range of courses in dramatics and humanities, and designed a small laboratory theater space.'"

She added that he had "a wealth of technical skills that were honed through many years of doing theater with meager resources."

Dr. Knower won many play- writing awards and was working on a play at his death. He established a playwriting contest at Goucher that awarded a prize and resulted in the production of the winning entry.

While taking on important issues in his plays, Dr. Knower filled them with large casts and difficult technical demands, which in the end worked economically against them being produced.

But he refused to let that stop him, and he continued writing.

"Barry refused to reduce his examination of the human condition, in all its wonderful, exasperating diversity, to a living room with two characters. He really felt the stage was a place where imagination should know no boundaries, that words were paramount," Mrs. Knower said.

She noted that his plays addressed such areas as the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the nature of the artist's vision and "what America was headed for if we didn't look out."

While no longer directing, Dr. Knower continued to act, appearing in recent years in Bowie Community Theater, Silver Spring Stage and Colonial Players productions.

Despite health problems -- he rebounded from congestive heart failure and two valve replacements -- Dr. Knower played vigorous tennis matches with friends three times a week until being admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital in March after a brain tumor was diagnosed.

"His family, friends, colleagues and students knew him for his acerbic wit, his keen enjoyment of the absurdities of the human condition, his wide knowledge of both science and the arts, and his intolerance of idiocy on the national or personal level," Mrs. Knower said.

Dr. Knower left his body to the State Anatomy Board, and no service is planned.

Also surviving are two sons, Cyrus McElderry Knower of Philadelphia and Zachary Stewart Knower of New York City; a daughter, Dr. Andrea Torrence Knower Stockard of San Diego; a brother, Stewart Knower of Annapolis; a sister, Brooks Riley of Munich, Germany; and two grandchildren.

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