Friday, February 19, 2016

"Sam and Dede (Or, My Dinner with Andre the Giant)"

Sam and Dede (Or My Dinner with Andre the Giant)
Gino Dilorio

Sam (Dave Sikula) Drives Dede (Brendan Averett) to School
A writer afraid of words befriends a giant trying to hide.  That the former is the Nobel prize-winning, Irish writer Samuel Beckett and the latter is his French, twelve-year-old neighbor, Andre, already over six feet tall and 240 pounds and still growing, soon becomes hardly noticeable.  After a few days of Sam’s offering Dede (Andre’s preferred name) a ride in his truck to a nearby school in Paris (a favor the real Beckett once extended to a boy giant living next door), the two interact quite naturally as special buddies.  Even though in almost every conceivable way they share little in common (other than a deep love for cricket), the two become genuinely fond and bonded in Gino Dilorio’s version of a fictional, life-long relationship that spawns from an actual, initial encounter.  The world premiere of his play, Sam and Dede (Or My Dinner with Andre the Giant), as produced by Custom Made Theatre Company, is every minute of its ninety a total delight and is guaranteed to bring many audience smiles and laughs along the way and a collective sigh of full satisfaction as its lights go out.

Dave Sikula is the pensive-by-nature, meticulous-by-habit Samuel Beckett,  who arranges and rearranges stage furniture (in this case mostly box-shaped representations), wall hangings, and wine bottles with exacting care (probably mimicking how the famed writer once placed words on a page).  Perhaps like many in his plays’ audiences, Sam claims again and again in conversation with Dede not to know what a play like Waiting for Godot actually means (to which the boy remarks, “Ridiculous”) and even hesitates to admit he is a writer at all.   Giving answers and responses to a curious boy’s questions in the minimalist style typical of the real Beckett, Mr. Sikula offers a Sam quite authentic of how we might suppose him to have been.  But sudden-appearing, barely upturned grins and eyes that glint in delight as he banters with his unusually sized pal offer the possible heart and humor side of the man who also wrote bleak, absurd commentaries on the human condition.

Dede turns out to be quite the boy of words himself.  While not a scholar by a long shot, the boy who will someday move pianos up staircases on his back and will become a famed wrestler in the ring, spouts thought-provoking wisdoms like “The bigger a man is, the fuller he is” or “When people can never forget you, you are never alone.”  Whether he is a boy off to school or later a man going about his life, Dede lives with the fact that “no matter what I do, everyone can always see me.”  As the behemoth boy, Brendon Averett in shorts showcasing his trunk-size legs is just as silly and stubborn, curious and calculating, and bubbly and brash as any pre-teen kid; but he is also insightful beyond his years.  In response to Sam’s ever-funny-to-Dede descriptions of his Godot, the boy posits, “I think theatre should take things and make them bigger than everything ... (but) something has to happen!”

Dave Sikula and Brendan Averett
Once Dede and Sam age a few more years and meet again, Mr. Averett’s giant has a personality to match his size with hardy and deep-throated, French-sounding laughs; sheer exuberance in gulping glass after glass, bottle after bottle of wine; and real joy in kibitzing with old friend, Sam.  Watching his showing Sam a few tricks from the wrestling ring and seeing Sam’s shocked reactions is one of the play’s best of many fine moments. 

Erik LaDue’s simple yet workable stage design of movable and stackable items ably allows Beckett’s deep-in-thought wanderings and placements during each scene change.  The classical music interludes between scenes designed by Ryan Lee Short and the matching lighting choices by Maxx Kurzunski for those breaks as well as for the scenes in between both set the table for the exceptionally fine performances directed by Leah S. Abrams.   

Dave Sikula and Brendan Averett
All (playwright, director, designers, actors) combine forces for several of the most fascinating, final minutes that I have recently (and maybe ever) spent in a theatre.  In their hilariously different-sized sarcophagi with only ghastly lit heads showing, Sam and Dede each detail in continuously over-lapping monologues their last joint meeting years prior on the streets of Paris.  Although neither hardly takes a breath in his rapid tapping out of words, there is no problem in somehow understanding each and everything both are simultaneously saying.  Kudos to all involved.

Rarely have I been to a play where I had so much regret that the end had arrived.  I so wanted Sam and Dede just to keep on meeting and talking ... largely about not much at all and yet about everything.  Custom Made Theatre Company and Gino Dilorio have teamed to produce a winner that even in its first production, feels pretty perfect.

Rating: 5 E

Sam and Dede (Or My Dinner with Andre the Giant) continues through March 5, 2016 at 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at

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