The loose-jointed, high-spirited event dramatized, forcefully, the many differences between the '60s and today. From Heide's dark fatalism and Sam Shepard's vivid street poetry through the off-kilter playfulness of Drexler and Fornes to the ornate verbal cadenzas of Robert Patrick and Doric Wilson, the excerpts ranged far more widely than the bulk of today's downtown work, so constipated by academicism. It drew from many more styles of theater and used them with far greater political and dramaturgic daring; it bounced imaginatively off TV and movies instead of imitating them, like the often mediocre stuff our budget-conscious Off-Broadway institutions feed us today.
West Village Fragments brought all this back, though without the nuance and charm of the old intimate spaces: The acting here was coarse-grained and shouty, as happens when you're fighting to be heard over street traffic. Still, the commitment and inventiveness were real. On technical terms, the skill of the new Chorus Line cast is in a far bigger league, but here, too, something has waned a little: Time has produced in these young dancers a distance from the material that slightly tones down the feel of truth. But Chorus Line is all of a piece, and still works wonderfully as such. The West Village Fragments, like the theater that inspired them, have vanished; stay tuned for East Village Fragments next spring. Stay patient, hoping for the new theater that will build with imagination on the memories the '60s left for us.