Mid 1950s. André’s father Boris helped Sam build a cottage in the northeastern hamlet outside Paris where they both lived. When Sam heard his neighbor’s son had difficulty getting to school, he volunteered to drive the boy. (In this play, he’s clearing a debt.) Then 12 years old, 6’ tall and 240 pounds, André wouldn’t fit on the school bus. He suffered from acromeglia, an overabundance of growth hormones, and would grow to be 7’ 4”. Thrown together, the pair found commonality in cricket.
Sam (Dave Sikula) was the Nobel prize winning author Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) André (Brendan Averett) was André Rene Rousimoff, André the Giant, (1943-1993) the wrestler and occasional film actor (in such as The Princess Bride.) This much is true.
When we first meet the pair, André (nicknamed Dede) is a sullen, self conscious, preadolecent who doesn’t want to go to school. Classmates pick fights and, being a sensitive boy, he allows himself to be a punching bag for fear of hurting someone. He won’t allow Sam to drive up to the school for fear of looking stupid folded into the truck. His volunteer driver is patient and kind. They strike up a kind of friendship. Actor Brendan Averett inhabits the boy with great skill. His physical awkwardness expressions are priceless.
“My father says you wrote a play. What’s it about?” asks André. “I don’t know,” Sam shrugs. When pressed, he describes, though doesn’t explain Waiting for Godot. “The tramps wait for a man who doesn’t come? That doesn’t make sense,” the boy responds. Very true. His ambition, he tells Sam, is to move to Paris and “do something everyone will remember.” (André quit school and did so at 17.)
Years later, the young man attends a Beckett play in Paris. He’s working as a mover and learning to wrestle. Finding acceptance, he laughs easily and looks towards an interesting future. Sam’s obscure, tragicomic demeanor hasn’t changed. “I’m like a man who each day understands language more, but finds it increasingly difficult to speak.” Subsequently, the playwright goes to see André wrestle, enjoying it. They have dinner together and talk about respective crafts, one with infectious enthusiasm, the other with reticence.
Conversation is engaging. Clearly playwright Gino Diiorio knows something about both forms of theater (and Cricket). Sam appears what one easily assumes to be Beckett-like, while André, whom the writer finds refreshing, offers an opportunity to illuminate both men with his curiosity and contra-intellectual point of view. Physicality appears with humor and, one suspects accuracy.
The last scene is an unexpected homage to another of Samuel Beckett’s plays. It’s cleverly manifest, but teeters on the brink of losing both storyline and attention.
Both actors are fine, but it’s Brendan Averett’s André who captivates. The artist inhabits his character at three stages of life with vocal, bearing and mood change. We believe he’s an ungainly 12, we believe the evolution to infectious optimism and finally, confidence, we believe the ingenuousness of his questions. Averett gives us a whole person.
Director Leah S. Abrams lets Sam be André’s foil (as scripted) without completely eschewing the latter’s personality. She manages to imbue physicality into a play comprised greatly of conversation. Wrestling demonstrations are particularly good. Drunkenness is viably subtle. The staging area is well employed.
I find Erik Ladue’s Set incomprehensible. Though appealingly quirky, the dangling geometric shapes and shadows have nothing to do with this tale. A moon with an on and off switch evokes Beckett’s oeuvre, however, as does the final Set.
Photos by Jay Yamada
Opening: Brendan Averett, Dave Sikula
The Custom Made Theatre Company presents
Sam & Dede, Or My Dinner with Andre the Giant by Gino Diiorio
Directed by Leah S. Abrams
59E 59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Through April 1, 2017