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In 1958, in a small town in France, fifty-two-year-old Samuel Beckett drove twelve-year-old André René Roussimoff to school in a truck as a favor for the boy’s father. It’s one of the most bizarre confluences of all time: The playwright who had already written such groundbreaking works asEndgame, Waiting for Godot, and Act without Words I & II meeting the rather large adolescent who would later become known as wrestling icon and Princess Bride star Andre the Giant. Gino DiIorio re-creates that fact-based scene and imagines several others in the delightfully odd Sam and Dede, or My Dinner with Andre the Giant, which opened last night at 59E59. “I don’t fit anywhere,” Andre (Brendan Averett), who asks to be called Dede (pronounced “day-day”), says to Sam (Dave Sikula), referring not only to his size — he’s already over six feet tall and nearly 250 pounds — but to his place in the world. The man and the boy discuss farming, teaching, cricket, bullying, and playwriting. Curious about one of Sam’s plays, Dede asks, “What’s it about?” Sam responds, “I’m not certain.” Dede: “You wrote the play and you don’t know what it’s about?” Sam: “Well, it’s hard to say.” Dede: “It has to be about something.” Sam: “No. A play isn’t about something. A play is something.” Five years later, Dede, who calls Sam “Boss,” attends a performance of Endgame in Paris, where Dede talks about the play and his new career in professional wrestling. “The trouble is, we don’t always finish the way we want to finish,” he says. “And we don’t know where the finish is!” Meanwhile, Sam self-effacingly admits, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” The men next meet in 1975, when Sam comes to see Dede in a wrestling match. They are drinking in Dede’s hotel room, Sam as elusive as ever, but Dede has grown into an intelligent adult with a lust for life, reevaluating his place in the world and offering to show Sam what a pile driver is. It’s a wonderful scene, as the two men realize they are not as different as they once were, both entertainers in their own way.
Erik Ladue’s somewhat claustrophobic set consists of stonelike blocks that Sam rearranges for each scene, creating car seats, chairs, a table, and carefully thought out abstract shapes. Occasionally he wistfully points up at one wall and a projection of the moon appears, an awkward reference to Waiting for Godot (“It’s about a tree and the moon,” Sam says) and a poem Dede makes up later in the play. Director Leah S. Abrams, cofounder and executive director of Custom Made Theatre Co., has helmed numerous Beckett shorts, and she brings that understanding of Beckett and his work to Sam and Dede, adding humor and occasional sweet moments of uncomfortability, along with an inspiringly staged conclusion. Shakespeare veteran Averett (The Killer, Massacre: Sing to Your Children) and Sikula (Grey Gardens, Superior Donuts) have an infectious camaraderie; neither actor attempts to do an impression of their characters — Sikula completely foregoes an Irish accent, and Averett speaks more clearly than Andre did in real life — but they lovingly capture the essence of each unique individual. Plays that imagine scenarios that never happened are often problematic and untrustworthy, but Abrams and DiIorio (Crib, The Jag) manage to avoid that dilemma, creating an entertaining and thoughtful absurdist bromance that one can only wish were really true.