Sam is the Nobel Prize winning, Irish-born playwright Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). Dede is André René Roussimoff (1946-1993), the French-born champion wrestler known as Andre the Giant, and who also appeared in the film The Princess Bride.
Beckett lived in rural France, and his nearby neighbor, Boris Roussimoff, helped him build a cottage on his property in 1953. Beckett grew close to the family, and offered to drive Andre to school, as the boy was reluctant to take the bus. This was because he suffered from gigantism and was self-conscious about his appearance and his difficulty in fitting into the bus. By the age of 12, he was 6’ 3” tall and weighed 208 lb.
Playwright Gino DiIorio has taken this factual incident and ingeniously woven it in to a very entertaining 85-minute, two-character biographical play. The events are all imagined, and Mr. DiIorio vividly presents the idealized representations of these two historical figures that admirers of theirs would appreciate. Even if one didn’t know who they were, the play would still be compelling as a tale of older and younger benefiting from each other.
The opening scenes have the older man and the boy chatting while driving in Beckett’s car and echo Waiting for Godot. It’s wonderfully done in Beckett’s renowned style of short sentences laden with pauses. Additional scenes take place in later years, and include a dinner after a wrestling match where the two drink a lot of wine and converse and catch up, as their lives have taken different turns. The moving finale is a terrific recreation of a scene from one of Beckett’s plays.
The bald, hulking and charming Brendan Averett delivers a commanding performance as Andre. Mr. Averett ingratiatingly begins as a child, with many endearing traits. He goes on to convey Andre’s progress to adulthood with his expressive physicality. Using his graceful presence and his aching vocal cadences, he most crucially suggests the character’s physical plight.
Wearing a checkered blazer, dark trousers, a dark turtleneck, and with his white hair jaggedly styled, Dave Sikula resembles Samuel Beckett. Mr. Sikula’s soothing and melodious voice captures Beckett’s intelligence, wit and compassion. Sikula’s performance is a marvelous channeling.
The prevalent essence of Beckett is most evident in the captivating, spare theatrical approach of the production. Director Leah S. Abrams’ staging is measured and has a brisk pace that realizes the humor and poignancy.
Erik LaDue’s minimal but arresting scenic design has the small stage set with stony blocks that are rearranged for different scenes as well as stony, geometric shapes hanging from the ceiling. It is a perfect Beckettian landscape.
Maxx Kurzunski’s lighting design strikingly reinforces the sense of homage to Beckett with its brightness that fluctuates, and that accentuates the passage of time. There are also red hues for dramatic effect.
Sound designer Ryan Lee Short finely modulates the incidental music that includes Satie.
From the familiar garb of Beckett, to a satin robe for Andre, Brooke Jennings’ costume design authentically depicts these real life figures.
Sam & Dede, or My Dinner with Andre the Giant is a beautiful edition to the theatrical genre of historical personages dramatized in fanciful situations.
Sam & Dede, or My Dinner with Andre the Giant (through April 1, 2017)
The Custom Made Theatre Co.
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission