40.737440
-73.996440

The Connection Debuts at the Living Theatre

The Connection Debuts at the Living Theatre

The theater’s jack-of-all-trade’s Larry Kornfeld was given Jack Gelber’s script for The Connection and immediately fell for it, so he brought it to Malina. She directed the play, which centered on a group of men waiting for their drug connection named Cowboy (played by Carl Lee, who became Shirley Clarke’s longtime companion). “The Connection broke down the wall between the audience and the actors,” recalled Peter Crowley, who worked at the Living Theatre. “The realism of it was pretty radical at the time. They had junkies playing junkies. I mean, not that every actor there was a junkie, but some were. And then a real jazz band was part of the show.” The Connection was framed as a play within a play. A man who introduced himself as the show’s producer told the audience that he brought in actual heroin addicts to improvise on the playwright’s themes for a documentary they were shooting. In exchange for their cooperation, he explained, the men were promised a fix. The show’s first act consisted of the junkies waiting for the heroin, and during The Connection’s intermission the performers wandered into the crowd and bummed change. “It had the actors, still in character, haranguing the spectators for money during the intermission so convincingly that they left profound doubts in the audience as to whether or not they were the real thing,” recalled Elaine Dundy, whose sister Shirley Clarke directed the film adaptation of The Connection. “It was, to use a word just gaining favor, a Happening.”

From Chapter 2 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore