AN EVENING AT THE CAFFE CINO, Retro Theatre Company, at Cafe Voltaire. The Caffe Cino, a crucial place among the many tiny coffeehouse theaters that mushroomed in New York’s Village in the late 1950s and early 1960s, has been eclipsed in recent years by more enduring compatriots like La Mama. But Joe Cino’s little room was the first venue for many young playwrights destined to make names for themselves. And now, decades later in another bare-bones basement coffeehouse, Retro Theatre pays homage to those fledgling wordsmiths with an evening of three one-acts, two from the Caffe Cino’s repertoire and one contemporary work. Robert Patrick’s Cornered is a sweet little vignette about a husband and wife separated by an expanse of freshly painted floor who discover that distance really does make the heart grow fonder, and John Guare’s The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year is a quirky tale of lovers who choose death over deception. Retro company member Sara Reily’s Last Night Out, a pessimistic snippet of dialogue in which estranged spouses fail in a last-ditch attempt to find compatibility, seems written to order as a bridge between the two.

Hindsight being what it is, it’s tempting to look for hints of genius in the early output of the authors who would later write Kennedy’s Children and Six Degrees of Separation. But re-created with all their original ingenuous sincerity intact by an ensemble barely out of the schoolroom, they seem little more than exercises, perhaps anticipating some fine future work–a fate one can only project hopefully onto Reily’s playlet. Still, theatergoers willing to gamble a few dollars and an hour’s attention in 1994 may look back on this experience fondly some 20 years hence.