My Dinner with Andre (1981)
Two old friends meet for dinner; as one tells anecdotes detailing his experiences, the other notices their differing worldviews.
Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, apparently playing themselves, share their lives over the course of an evening meal at a restaurant. Gregory, a theater director from New York, is the more talkative of the pair. He relates to Shawn his tales of dropping out, traveling around the world, and experiencing the variety of ways people live, such as a monk who could balance his entire weight on his fingertips. Shawn listens avidly, but questions the value of Gregory's seeming abandonment of the pragmatic aspects of life.
Thirty-six year old New York playwright/actor Wallace Shawn isn't looking forward to the dinner he has scheduled with who he once considered a friend, former Broadway director Andre Gregory, who he has not seen in years. Andre left the profession to travel to the far corners of the world. Wally has heard from mutual friends that Andre has "gone crazy" from his experiences. During dinner at an upscale French restaurant, the two old friends largely talk about Andre's experiences, which often entailed applying what he knew of improvisation from the theater but applying it to real life, whether or not it be with people associated with the theater in some respect. Emerging from Andre's description of those experiences to Wally, the two enter into a philosophical discussion about life on such directly related topics as: if people in western society are living as if in a trance; if one can truly proverbially survive on such mundane and habitual items as chicken and electric blankets, and if not if one can find experiences to get out of the "chicken" diet anywhere if one is only willing to look; if those experiences are meant for that one person or if they are just coincidental to the person; if one should at every moment be striving to do something to be considered purposeful; and if labels are solely a mechanism to have some grounding.
- In New York City, an actor/playwright agrees to have dinner with a theatre director who he has not seen, literally, for years. He is afraid of meeting with him because of the stories that he has heard about the director sobbing on a sidewalk and talking with trees. Obviously, something terrible had happened to him.
He meets with him at an expensive restaurant (he is given a coat and necktie to wear, since he is not dressed appropriately) and waits at the bar for his old friend to arrive.
Once Andre arrives, he hugs Wally, who feels that he is really in the theatre now. The staff at the restaurant know Andre well and seat the two immediately at a table that provides a fair amount of privacy.
Wally needs help understanding the menu, and Andre, with a sense of humour, helps him with the French cuisine. They both order quail.
Over the next 45 minutes or so, Andre tries to explain what has happened in his life. It seems that he has been on a fantastical journey of enlightenment. Wally mostly listens in disbelief.
Andre takes the viewer on adventures to the forests of Poland where he worked with a fellow experimental theatre director; to the Sahara with a Tibetan Buddhist monk; to a lush paradise of plants in an inhospitable region in the north of Scotland; to Montauk, Long Island, where he stayed on Richard Avedon's estate and took part in a rebirth ritual.
Andre had been involved in breaking free of the habits of mechanical, automatic living.
The dinner conversation ends with Wally challenging some of the methods and purpose of Andre's pursuits. He is confused, angry, and feels Andre has wasted years of his life. Wally is a pragmatic rationalist, to assign a label to him. He feels that Andre's magical thinking is ridiculous and can be harmful to both himself and others.
As Wally continues to verbally attack his former colleague, he begins to realise how confused he is about the stories that Andre has told him. In confronting his confusion, Wally begins to understand there may be other ways to view the world. There is no resolution in the conversation.
As he rides home in a taxi, an indulgence, he reflects on the evening's conversation as the city passes by the window. He recalls various events from his childhood that had taken place in this part of the City; however, he seems to be viewing everything in a slightly different way.