It would be hard to think of a more unlikely confluence of historical figures, and yet there’s evidence that Modernist playwright Samuel Beckett and pro wrestler Andre “The Giant” Rousimoff knew each other. In fact, they shared a good amount of time together when 12-year-old Andre, already too big to fit on the bus, hitched a ride to school in Beckett’s truck. Whether they stayed in touch is not known, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that they might have met up some years later in Paris, where several of Samuel’s plays debuted and Andre’s athletic career began. In this clever and oddly touching two hander, playwright Gino DiIorio imagines what might have occurred had such an encounter taken place.
The play begins in French countryside, where Samuel Beckett (Dave Sikula) has purchased property with the proceeds from his acclaimed play WAITING FOR GODOT. Local craftsman Boris Rousimoff helps him build a cottage, and when Samuel has difficulty paying for the work, he compensates Boris by giving his son Andre (Brendan Averett) a lift to school every morning. Conversations are a bit stilted at first. But when the two guys discover their shared love of cricket, the mood becomes more relaxed. Beckett being Beckett, he’s not always able to give Andre (“Dede” for short) the cogent answers his young mind craves. Yet the closeness between them gradually grows, and Dede opens up about the social awkwardness caused by his stature and about his desire to escape small town life and travel to the City of Lights.
As it happens, Dede gets his wish. At the French premier of Beckett’s ENDGAME, the two men reunite, and Sam is pleased to learn that Dede is working in Paris as a furniture mover and gaining a reputation in the wrestling world. Dede is impressed with the performance but bemused by his friend’s seeming inability to enjoy his growing success. When they meet again, things have changed, and yet the affection between the two men remains undiminished. It’s now 1975. Beckett is required reading in colleges everywhere, and Andre’s a World Wrestling Federation star. The two share some laughs and down several bottles of wine (Andre has become an epic drinker). Andre tells wild anecdotes and teaches Sam the tricks of the wrestling trade. Amid the laughter, though, somber truths emerge. The same pituitary condition that makes Dede a giant also affects his circulatory system, and he knows his own end game is not far off. Sam, too, admits that he has looked death in the face. As if in an existentialist novel, he was stabbed on the streets of Paris by a pimp who, by his own admission, had no reason for his actions. As the evening progresses, Dede, the master of stadium theatrics, and Sam, who wrestles with life’s great intangibles, find they have more in common than meets the eye.
In lesser hands, this juxtaposition of high and low culture would be played for easy laughs. Thankfully, DiIorio isn’t content to merely flatter the audience with inside jokes for the Beckett-literate. The comedy here is of a gentler sort, deriving from the struggle of two men, each with a good heart, to navigate a modern world that often refuses to make sense. Averett maintains the same ingenuous verve as he transitions from an awkwardly outsized child to a Rabelaisian roisterer. Sikula captures virile intellect and quizzical melancholy beneath Sam’s cordial demeanor. Using minimal strokes, director Leah S. Abrams neatly establishes the physical world of the play, and gently puts across the message that, for all its concomitant frustrations and unsolvable riddles, being human does have its upside.
SAM AND DEDE continues through 59E59 Theaters. 59 East 59th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues, New York, NY 10022. Tickets: http://www.theatermania.