Thursday, May 9, 2013

Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner

The documentarian Cindy Kleine turns the camera on her husband for the scattershot biopic "Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner." Gregory's most famous, of course, for 1981's "My Dinner with Andre," opposite Wallace Shawn, but has also had roles in flicks from "Demolition Man" to "The Last Temptation of Christ" and, in "The Mosquito Coast," may be the only actor ever to kill Harrison Ford, which has to be worth something. His Hollywood work, though, only pays the bills for his true love, the theater, where he's famous for a hands-off directorial style in which he rehearses actors as long as they need - years, sometimes - to take their characters where they're meant to go.

"Before and After Dinner" is loosely organized at best, and has little to offer in the way of production values. Its chief pleasures lie in Gregory's humorous anecdotes from a lifetime in the arts and the behind-the-scenes glimpses of his technique in action, in the skilled hands of actors including Julianne Moore. Even a little time in the company of Wally Shawn, though, proves too much. Here's a man who never speaks a sentence when a paragraph will suffice. I was reminded of the New York critic's circle dinner at which John Simon famously shouted to him, "Shut up, you fool!"

1 comment:

  1. Andre's home for many, many ... possibly too many years, was the Theater of the Living Arts in Philadelphia. He pressed the flesh all over town to get production money, solidly a total give away, to produce what he considered art. It is debatable how many others agreed, but Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch both cut their teeth working in his theater. When it was sold by Ray Murray a couple of years ago, there was a radio funeral for the theater, although it is actually still standing, but Murray had started out working at TLA while Andre was the director. The stories were legion and perhaps legendary of characters that these actors to this day have not fathomed what it was they were supposed to be doing in plays that made little or no sense. In some ways perhaps futile, but in others perhaps a masterful training ground for actors to look well beyond what is on the written page for meaning. Still, the best thing that I think I ever saw Andre Gregory do was what he never pulled off, Wallace Shawn in "Uncle Vanya". The film was directed superbly by Louis Malle, but the performance was crafted by Shawn and Gregory, and it is well worth a look.