The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

My Dinner with André takes the form of a conversation between the work’s authors, playwright/actor Wallace Shawn and theater director André Gregory. Shawn’s interior monologue at the work’s beginning provides some biographical information about Gregory; during the subsequent conversation only their first names, “Wally” and “André,” identify the speakers. Even so, they clearly play themselves, for their conversation has to do exclusively with matters related to the theater, to aesthetics, and, frequently, to actual persons. Events to which they refer, though focused, highlighted, or slightly altered for purposes of their presentation, are basically factual. The play’s action proceeds without intervals and, except for brief interior monologues which attend Wally’s arrival and departure, is set entirely at the table of an exclusive New York City restaurant. The two men enjoy a fine meal as they talk.

Wally trudges along on his way to the restaurant as the work begins. He is thirty-six years old, though he looks older; he is a playwright, turned actor in order to eke out some form of living. It bothers him that his girlfriend Debby has to work three nights a week as a waitress to help support them. Routine errands, such as making telephone calls, buying envelopes, mailing copies of unproduced plays, and checking with his answering service in hope of some acting work have made his day more discouraging than usual. Worst of all, Wally is uneasy about his dinner engagement with André and wishes that instead he were on his way home to see Debby and eat a good dinner there.

André had been a close friend and colleague, had discovered Wally, and had directed Wally’s first play, but immediately after this had dropped out of sight. Wally has heard all sorts of strange tales about André’s doings: that André had become a devotee of Buddhism, that he had talked to trees, that he had appeared in odd parts of the world at unpredictable times, always traveling alone and for no ostensible purpose. In short, Wally worries for his old friend’s sanity and feels unprepared to cope with André’s problems in addition to his own. He is also quietly resentful that André appears to have the money to indulge these eccentricities.

These feelings exacerbate the awkwardness with which the evening begins. André appears almost immediately after Wally has arrived. Though the warmth of his greeting dispels some of Wally’s attempt at disengagement, Wally is still nervous. He wonders whether he will survive the meal and thinks that André looks “crazy.” The audience does not know what to think. André is painfully thin, looks vaguely haunted, and, though dressed neatly and with considerably more style than Wally (who wears a tie and poorly cut sports jacket), has nevertheless chosen to wear a shawl-collar sweater and open-neck shirt to an elegant restaurant.

André looks younger and more alive than Wally, though he is actually ten years older; however, to Wally’s pleasantry, “You look terrific,” he replies, “I feel terrible.”

André begins to talk even as Wally is having these negative thoughts. The audience hears only a phrase or two beneath Wally’s negativism, about an actual Polish director named Jerzy Grotowski who had dropped out of the theater, had returned to Poland, and had begun to run avant-garde workshops for actors there. Grotowski had invited André to participate in one of these, held in a forest from sunset to ten or eleven o’clock the next morning. A group of forty, none of whom spoke English, would sing, dance, and eat in a kind of living improvisation, then sleep from noon until the next sunset. André enjoyed these sessions immensely, though he also found them frightening because all plan and structure was absent. There was no security of routine,...

(The entire section is 1576 words.)