André the Giant, the famous professional wrestler, is a legend who will go down as one of the most iconic figures in sports history. He acted in films, slammed his opponents in the ring and built a loyal following. At 12 years old, he was already taller than 6 feet and weighed 240 pounds. He would eventually grow to 7 feet 4 inches and weigh 500 pounds, and he was an absolute terror in a wrestling match, especially in the main bout of Wrestlemania III against Hulk Hogan.
What fans of André might not know is that he grew up Andrew Rene Roussimoff in Grenoble, France, and he had acromegaly, a hormonal disorder that caused his giant size. One of his childhood neighbors was none other than Samuel Beckett, the Irish playwright who is known for his surreal, contemplative plays like Waiting for Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape and Happy Days.
Beckett would drive Roussimoff to school because apparently the future wrestler couldn’t fit in the local school bus. Two iconic forces would share some personal time together, and playwright Gino Dilorio has built a new play about what may have transpired between the wrestler and the writer. Sam & Dede, or My Dinner With André the Giant is currently playing 59E59 Theaters in Midtown Manhattan through Saturday, April 1.
Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Dilorio about the East Coast premiere of the play. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.
Is this story really true?
It is. Beckett drove André to school in the eighth grade, presumably because he was too big to fit on the school bus. André said they ‘talked about cricket,’ which makes sense as Beckett was a huge sports fan. His name appears in some cricket record books I believe. I’m not sure how much contact they had after that year, but the play fantasizes on how they may have kept in touch.
When writing a play that features Samuel Beckett as a character, how important was it to focus on the dialogue?
A lot. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, but when I was finished [with] the first draft, I realized that it sounded different than a lot of my other plays. For one thing, there was no swearing! But I think on some level I was subconsciously aware of Beckett’s dialogue and perhaps trying to write a play in that style. And the last scene, of course, is an over homage to Beckett.
What inspired you personally to tell this story?
My son, Andrew, was very interested in pro wrestling, as I was at his age. And he asked me who I watched, which led me to research André, and that’s how the idea was born. I thought if anyone could tell this story, I could. It was just crazy enough to dive into.
How was it working with director Leah S. Abrams?
It was great. Leah knows a lot about Beckett, and she was very helpful in realizing how the damned thing could work. It’s not an easy play to pull off, but Leah made it possible. So it was a great relationship.
In the process of creating this work, what did you learn about André the Giant and Samuel Beckett?
A lot! For one thing, Beckett was very personable. Someone who liked to take a drink was always willing to talk to someone about sports and work, that kind of thing. He wasn’t the dour figure as is usually portrayed in the photographs. And André was, of course, very outgoing but had the qualities that one needs to be a wrestling star. He had charisma, a great sense of humor, great acting talent, and he was an extraordinary athlete. André never got credit for being the great athlete that he was. It’s very difficult for someone that size to be that agile. After Muhammed Ali, he was the most recognizable person in the world. Both men made their mark in very different ways. Both men exist in different aspects of theatre.
What do you hope the takeaway is from the audience’s perspective?
I hope [they] see the play as kind of a contemplation on two individuals, on the theatre, on life, on being public and private. The play is a riff on two unique lives and how they intersected in a theatrical way. So I hope it just gets people laughing and thinking.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Sam & Dede, or My Dinner With André the Giant is currently playing 59E59 Theaters in Midtown Manhattan. Click here for more information and tickets.