In a recent address to his freshman class entitled "The Decade of Shortcuts" Yale President Kingman Brewster, Jr. cited three ways in which some students of the last decade sought to find exhilaration and inject zeal into under-graduate life. one was the demand for "relevance", another was the glorification of the "happening" ("anything was good as long as it expressed the real, now self"), and the third was "trashing", an ugly resort to violence. Brewster concluded that despite a residue of change, some of it beneficial, these "patent medicines" bred disillusionment and fostered a cult of unreason. Such attitudes left no room for a university's proper, enduring concern with truth and beauty as embodied in the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. The end result, argued Brewster, was "a yearning for structure, a sense of emptiness which is left even after a full menu of disorganized experience in the raw."
The American theater's decade of shortcuts has been uncannily similar. There have been scads of "relevance" plays about Viet Nam, racial injustice, middle-class hypocrisy, and identity crises - all without the residue of a single durable work of dramatic art, which is the theater's proper long-term concern. The "happening" became a proliferating desire for instant sensation. "Participation" was extorted from the audience, often with arrogant ill grace. Obscene words were flung at playgoers to the point of shock fatigue, and nudity was flaunted. As for trashing, the classics were vandalized and literacy, craft, formal structure and verbal text violently abused.
This theatrical decade of short cuts is perfectly epitomized by Dude, a bulging trash basket of a musical, and an open declaration of total aesthetic bankruptcy. It combines the worst of Hair with the worst of jesus Christ Superstar - a void-plumbing feat. Dude unravels a numbingly incomprehensible allegory ranging from the dawn to creation to the limbo of suburbia, or something like that. Galt MacDermot's rock score is a wall of inchoate sound, and Tom O'Horgan stage-manages this debacle like a mass epileptic convulsion. This time around, more is being buried then the $700,000 production cost, and taps will not be sounded.
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