Nothing distorts like controversy
i don’t believe anyone who hated The Connection hated it as much as he claimed, just as those who “loved it” probably started out “sort of liking it”, becoming fanatically positive as its detractors became violently negative.
I know I was cool to it at the dress-rehearsal performance (I saw it twice), came to a rousing defence in the light of subsequent attacks, and wound up with a feeling of agitated ambivalence —uncertain about everything. I think now I have worked out this uncertainty, and if pressed into a pat judgment, I’d say: The Connection was much more than its detractors made out, and a good deal less than its champions liked to believe.
Of the New York Connection, Peter Brook wrote (in Encore): “I believe that the future of the theatre must lie in its transcending the surface of reality, and I believe The Connection shows how naturalism can become so deep that it can—through the intensity of the performer (I’m sure The Connection is nothing much on paper)— transcend appearances.”
Brook goes on to speak of a new trend in the theatre in which actors saturate themselves in a fictional relationship which then gets conveyed through pure behaviour. So that the only way to get the “sense” of the drama is to unravel it for ourselves, as we must do in real life. A trend towards a super-realistic theatre in which we could “dispense with such props to our interest as story and dialogue” and fix a more intensified focus on “the person or the people”.
We are asked to forget our traditional cravings for narrative and dramatic sensation, and become interested in “real people” in a “real situation”. To come to the theatre with a pre-set sense of empathy; with a capacity to interest ourselves in people in crisis, stirred only by our innate sense of human concern. (Albert Hunt argued in much the same way in his piece in NLR 7.)
This new mode of playwriting, where the spectator beings his own empathy and his own dramatic interest, depends exclusively on the theatre’s unmitigated reality. It is conceivable that we might become concerned with the lives of bona fide drug-addicts (a handful of desperately-pressured individuals who need a “fix” as the rest of us need a reason-for-being) but it is inconceivable that we should experience this kind of interest for a group of frenetic Methodactors going through the motions of drugaddiction and its attendant anxiety. In short, it is inconceivable that we should muster empathy for actors pretending, although entirely conceivable that we should for genuine addicts, or actors so totally involved that we believed they were addicts.