My Dinner with André represents a collaboration by two authors with very different personalities and experiences in the arts. André Gregory, true to his persona in this play, has never hesitated to engage in avant-garde and even outrageous projects. In 1979, for example, he and a group of nondancers performed, with complete seriousness, a ballet choreographed by Twyla Tharp at Town Hall in New York City. He was the former director of the Manhattan Project, an experimental theater group, and it was there that he first met Shawn. Gregory’s stage adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (pr. 1970) received great critical acclaim in its five-year New York run and won an Obie Award (given to outstanding Off-Broadway plays). Like Alice, Gregory has never hesitated to follow his own White Rabbit, wherever it might take him.
Wallace Shawn’s career in the theater has been equally distinguished, though certainly more traditional and circumspect. His play Our Late Night (pr. 1974, pb. 1984), which also won an Obie Award, was directed by Gregory and represented their first collaboration. Shawn’s characters, like his own persona in My Dinner with André, are often sedentary. Though they live wild and intense lives within their imaginations, some element of their circumstances (perhaps only psychological, yet overwhelming) anchors them to an apparently more controllable environment.
This theme remains a feature of his subsequent works. Aunt Dan and Lemon (pr., pb. 1985), for example, focuses on a young recluse who, though born “Leonora,” retains the implicitly pejorative name “Lemon,” given her as a child by “Aunt Dan,” a family friend whose real name is Danielle. Aunt Dan, an eccentric professor, controls Lemon’s life completely, even after Dan herself has died, through a series of conversations that effectively sour and poison the younger woman’s adult life. In the 1990’s Shawn added two plays to his oeuvre: The Fever (pr. 1990, pb. 1991) and The Designated Mourner (pr., pb. 1996).