The Connection is Jack Gelber’s first and most successful play. It helped determine the direction for American alternative theater of the 1960’s and offered to the public a new subject using an innovative theatrical technique. With The Connection, written when he was twenty-seven, Gelber established himself as one of America’s foremost experimental dramatists. Although the play initially received negative reviews, it ran for four years at The Living Theatre in New York’s Greenwich Village and was also staged in other parts of the country and in Europe.
The Connection is concerned with existentialist questions, which are treated in the manner of Samuel Beckett’s En attendant Godot (pb. 1952; Waiting for Godot, 1954). It presents waiting as the central human occupation and asks questions rather than offering answers. Gelber borrows the circular form of his play from jazz and parallels the play’s action with the jazz performed onstage: Both play and music consist of variations and improvisations on a stated theme. An influence on The Connection’s theatrical experimentation is Luigi Pirandello’s anti-illusionist theater, with its examination of the relationship between actor and character. Questions on the nature of theater also characterize Gelber’s plays The Apple (pr. 1961), a plotless series of confrontations between actors supposedly trying to devise a play, and Jack Gelber’s New Play: Rehearsal (pr. 1976), a play about a play that is being rehearsed. In Rehearsal, as in The Connection, a fictional author gets involved in his improvised play.
Another innovative play by Gelber is Sleep (pr., pb. 1972), which acts out the dreams of a man in a sleep laboratory to help the audience reconstruct his life. Square in the Eye (pr. 1965, pb. 1966) and The Cuban Thing (pr. 1968, pb. 1969) are more conventional plays that can be classed with Gelber’s On Ice (1964), a novel about the Beat Generation. Although some critics consider Gelber’s ideas to be poorly executed, many praise the innovative ideas of his works and his adherence to Ezra Pound’s dictum “Make it new.”