The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Connection is concerned with the staging of a play within the play, the inner play to be performed by heroin addicts and musicians. A few minutes before the play begins, the actors arrange themselves onstage; most of them are dozing. Dressed in suits, Jim Dunn, the producer of the play-within-the-play, and Jaybird, its author, enter. Jim introduces himself and Jaybird and comments on the media’s distorted treatment of narcotics, which, he says, are also the subject of the present play, supposedly written by Jaybird after living with drug addicts for several months. Jim is interrupted by one of the jazz musicians, who wants to know if the heroin dealer Cowboy is back. At this point, the distinction between the play’s reality and the play-within-the-play is blurred: The producer and the author become participants in their own play and interact with the actors they hired. Jim and Jaybird comment on the importance of jazz and its relation to drugs. Jaybird stresses that his play is as improvisatory as the jazz played onstage for about thirty minutes in each of the two acts. The two jazz musicians onstage are joined by two others.

Leach, the occupant of the apartment which Jim rented to film Jaybird’s play, asserts his leadership, complaining that he is the only one who eats, while his guests do nothing but sleep and make his apartment dirty. Leach is interrupted by Jim, who returns with two photographers—a black man in a white suit and a white man in a black suit; as the play unfolds the two photographers will gradually exchange their clothing and personalities. Then Jim introduces heroin addicts Leach, Solly, Ernie, and Sam and the four musicians and is again interrupted by questions about the arrival of Cowboy. Sam describes the state of heroin addiction as a constant running that is no worse than other people’s addiction to money, clothes, nature, medication, or vitamins. Solly adds that Sam’s vice happens to be illegal and explains that Sam is fed up with the uncertainty of waiting and that all he needs is hope. Ernie, tired of hearing about addictions and the human condition, announces that he was hired to play his trumpet that night. Unfortunately, he will be unable to take this job because he had to trade in his instrument at a pawnshop, and all he has left is the mouthpiece he blows time and again.

The dialogue is interrupted by the grotesque Harry, who walks into the apartment and, without saying a word, plugs in his portable phonograph and plays a Charlie Parker jazz record. After two minutes, during which everyone listens intently, Harry picks up the record and leaves again with his phonograph, still not saying a word. The musicians start playing but are soon interrupted by Jaybird, who accuses the actors of murdering his play because they are not presenting the characters he had laid out for them.

Leach and Solly decide to integrate Jaybird and the photographers into the action of the play, and Solly comments on the twentieth century’s antisocial attitude and its fascination with warfare. He then talks...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Connection reflects on its own nature as a work of the imagination and directs the audience’s attention to the artfulness of drama. In doing so Jack Gelber delimits The Connection from traditional drama: He would like his play’s sense of life to be perceived not as the product of one playwright’s imagination but as the real and true depiction of human life in general. In order to underscore the validity of its vision, The Connection tries to overcome the distinction between the play’s reality and the audience’s reality.

As Gelber writes, there is no rigidity in casting The Connection, although there should be roughly equal numbers of black and white actors onstage. The races of the individual actors are unimportant, because Gelber wants to depict a general human experience. Waiting and hoping are central to the experience not only of drug addicts in particular but also of human beings in general. There is no rigidity in the play’s setting, which explains why the word “perhaps” appears three times in the initial stage directions.

The Connection uses the theatrical device of the play-within-a-play in order to make the drug addicts relate their experience. Like human experience, however, the addicts’ stories and philosophies are beyond the audience’s control. The line between the characters in control of the play and the audience is crossed several times; for example, Jim Dunn...

(The entire section is 506 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Abel, Lionel. “Not Everyone Is in the Fix.” Partisan Review 27 (Winter, 1960): 131-136.

Bermel, Albert. “Jack Gelber Talks About Survival in the Theater.” Theater 9 (Spring, 1978): 46-58.

Dukore, Bernard F. “Jack Gelber.” Drama Survey 2 (Fall, 1962): 146-157.

Eskin, Stanley G. “Theatricality in the Avant-Garde Drama: A Reconsideration of a Theme in the Light of The Balcony and The Connection.” Modern Drama 7 (September, 1964): 213-222.

Gilman, Richard. Common and Uncommon Minds: Writings on Theater. New York: Random House, 1971.

Jeffrey, David K. “Genet and Gelber: Studies in Addiction.” Modern Drama 11 (September, 1968): 151-156.

King, Kimball. Ten Modern Playwrights. New York: Garland, 1982.