By the time of Fornes’s San Francisco debut in 1963, a theatrical development of major importance was well under way in Greenwich Village. More and more small, independent, loosely organized theater groups with very little money began producing plays in unconventional venues such as churches, coﬀeehouses, storefronts, galleries, and bars. The work was boisterous and willfully amateur in spirit, presented with little regard (if not outright disdain) for Broadway and the growing number of professional Oﬀ Broadway theaters. It was, in the best sense, a community theater, presented by and for a generation of bohemians who gravitated to Greenwich Village without, for the most part, professional training or ambition. This theater – ﬁrst dubbed “Oﬀ-Oﬀ Broadway” on November 24, 1960 by the Village Voice theater listings – was the collective eﬀort of a burgeoning counter-culture reacting on one hand to the mainstream, white-bread conformism of the Eisenhower years and to the radical innovations of the 1950s artistic avant-garde on the other. It sought a theatrical language that combined European aesthetics with American restlessness, that harnessed the anti-logic of the so-called “Theatre of the Absurd” to a parody of popular culture, and that expressed the inchoate values of a new generation. Of the many early inﬂuences on Oﬀ-Oﬀ Broadway, none was
more important than the Living Theatre. Through the 1950s, Julian Beck and Judith Malina worked with painters, poets, actors, and musicians in an eﬀort to forge a new American lyric drama, one that focused more on language, sound, and image than on personal psychology and family relationships. In the 1960s, this led to “experiments with putting actuality on stage which led eventually to
eliminating the separation between art and life, between dramatic action and social action, between living and acting, between spectator and performer, and between revolution and theatre” (Shank 1982: 9). Beck and Malina’s eﬀort to create a more visceral, more confrontational experience was signaled by their seminal 1959 production of Jack Gelber’s The Connection. The play, which presents a group of junkies waiting for a ﬁx, used the torpor of heroin addiction as a metaphor for a more pervasive, existential entropy.1
In its radical form and taboo subject, The Connection aﬃrmed a range of possibilities that Oﬀ-Oﬀ Broadway theaters would explore for the next decade.