Gelber, Jack 1932–
Gelber, an American playwright and novelist, is best known for his depiction of the drug culture in his play The Connection. Though original and intriguing in its conception, the quality of Gelber's work is generally considered to be uneven. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
Jack Gelber is, and has been from "The Connection" on, a dramatist who makes his own rules. His "Sleep," a play of sorts,… is based on the research that has been done over the past few years on sleep itself, and especially on Rapid Eye Movement Sleep and the kinds of dream that accompany it. The setting of the play is a sleep laboratory. A man called Gil is lying on a bed, upstage center, with his head in a metal contraption that looks something like a hair dryer…. Two doctors, Morphy (dim joke) and Merck (another), give Gil a few instructions, and he goes to sleep. The duration of the action is the duration of his first night in the lab, where, by tracking the dreams he acts out as he passes from one stage of sleep to the next and in and out of REM Sleep, we reconstruct his life … and his emotional spectrum—the heights he scales and the pockets he falls into…. [Many] of the scenes are quite good. We see Gil trying to make love to his wife; she refuses, to his dismay and anger, and the marriage cracks into pieces before our eyes. A threatening dream figure forces him to strip, and suddenly his horrified modesty changes to joy, and he goes scampering and dancing around the stage to make the funniest nude scene on earth. Nevertheless, the play is not a success—is not, I think, quite inventive or imaginative enough—nor does the character of Gil, as it is written, seem worth all that attention. But the idea is certainly original. There is a lot of work still to be done on "Sleep," and I hope that Mr. Gelber doesn't abandon it.
Edith Oliver, "A Hard Night's Sleep," in The New Yorker (© 1972 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XLVIII, No. 2, March 4, 1972, pp. 82-3.
What is a play? How does it happen? What makes it work? These were the basic issues behind Jack Gelber's new play, which is called, beguilingly enough, "Jack Gelber's New Play: Rehearsal." It is directed by the author. And it is not a rehearsal. But it tries to be the substance of a rehearsal—which might be something less or might be something more….
It is a play about a play, or at least about a play that was being rehearsed. The fictional author is a white ex-convict. His play is about "a prison rebellion that doesn't work out." It could be Attica. But then, Mr. Gelber and even his fictional author play everything cool; it could be anywhere. But, just as a tip, the fictional director, directing the fictional play, has a paperback of "Attica" on his fictional desk. The paperback could have been fictional.
Mr. Gelber's purpose is very clear. He is fascinated by the machinery not only of playwriting but much more of the business of getting a play on….
Mr. Gelber's playwright indeed even gets involved in the play itself, as an actor. Even more indeed, he finds himself playing in a male rape scene that he neither wrote, witnessed, nor envisaged. He is learning about the theater the hard way. But so is everyone else, including the play's fictional cast, its fictional director and its fictional producer. The only nonfiction part of this particular show is the audience. For much of the time it learns...
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My first reaction to Jack Gelber's New Play: Rehearsal, now at the American Place, is the fervent hope that Mr. Gelber will spare us the sequel, Jack Gelber's New Play: Play. The most distressing part of the current show, whose title ought to be self-explanatory, is the play that his group of actors and other stage folk occasionally get down to rehearsing, in between long bouts of palaver about what the play means, what theater means, what being an actor means, and so forth.
Yet, I did not mind Mr. Gelber's little theatrical exercise as much as my colleagues apparently did. Yes, the dialogue is utter trash, but I suspect that that was the aim. Actors, especially the seedy, out-of-luck bunch that people Mr. Gelber's theater, do tend to mistake the language of their work—soap operas, commercials, and the like—for intelligent speech, and they do go around, if they're not careful, saying things like "we're all in this together."
Mr. Gelber obviously knows his theater folk, and some of his observations in this new work are deadly accurate…. His show may not be much as drama, but as a learning experience I can, from my own days as a theater groupie, vouch for its authenticity.
Alan Rich, "Balderdash in the Bayou," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1976 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 9, No. 43, October 25, 1976, p. 77.∗
Gelber's Jack Gelber's New Play: Rehearsal is fascinating to the degree that it allows us to see … [a] communal breakdown, at work. Like The Connection, its people not only damage one another but collaborate in a situation which allows a force outside the group to set the conditions for survival. In The Connection, all are waiting for the fix. In Rehearsal, all are dependent on a financial fix. If the producer, like the pusher, fails to arrive with the fix, general and/or personal collapse ensues. The individual is at the mercy of the marketplace, at the mercy of the whims of the entrepreneur who can give or withhold. Neither the value of the individual nor that of the communal goal is given weight in these transactions. But it is the individual who allows the conditions. If the communal goal were worth enough to him, collaborative ways might be found to support it, obviating the need for the entrepreneur.
Near the end of Rehearsal, one actor suggests that the company simply go on with rehearsals, mount the play off-off Broadway, without financial support if need be; but no one else, not even the writer of the play, gives that serious consideration, failing to understand that a true communal effort invests not only the goal (which is the furtherance of the communal good) with meaning but everyone involved in the effort….
A further complication implicit in the situation that Gelber sets up in Rehearsal is that though everyone wants the play to happen, few in the company are agreed as to what play it is they are trying to make happen….
And within those contradictions, irony: Gelber gives...
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