When André Gregory and Wallace Shawn—theater directors, writers, actors, and longtime friends—sat down for a stimulating meal in 1981’s My Dinner with André, they not only ended up with one of cinema’s unlikeliest iconic scenarios but launched a film collaboration that would continue to pay creative dividends for decades. The subsequent projects they made together for the screen—1994’s Vanya on 42nd Street, a passionate read-through of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and 2014’s striking Henrik Ibsen interpretation A Master Builder—are penetrating works that exist on the edge of theater and film, and that both emerged out of many years of rehearsals with loyal troupes of actors. Gregory and Shawn’s unique contributions to the cinematic landscape are shape-shifting, challenging, and entertaining works about the process of creation.
MY DINNER WITH ANDRÉ
In this captivating and philosophical film directed by Louis Malle (Au revoir les enfants), Wallace Shawn sits down with his friend André Gregory at a restaurant on New York’s Upper West Side, and the pair proceed through an alternately whimsical and despairing confessional about love, death, money, and all the superstition in between. Playing variations on their own New York–honed personas, Shawn and Gregory, who also cowrote the screenplay, dive in with introspective intellectual gusto, and Malle captures it all with a delicate, artful detachment. A fascinating freeze-frame of cosmopolitan culture, My Dinner with André remains a unique work in cinema history.
VANYA ON 42ND STREET
In the early 1990s, André Gregory mounted a series of spare, private performances of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in a crumbling Manhattan playhouse. This experiment in pure theater—featuring a remarkable cast of actors, including Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, and George Gaynes—would have been lost to time had it not been captured on film, with subtle cinematic brilliance, by Louis Malle. Vanya on 42nd Street is as memorable and emotional a version of Chekhov’s masterpiece as one would ever hope to see.
A MASTER BUILDER
Twenty years after Vanya on 42nd Street, Wallace Shawn and André Gregory reunited to produce another idiosyncratic big-screen version of a classic play, this time Henrik Ibsen’s Bygmester Solness (Master Builder Solness). Brought pristinely to the screen by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), this is a compellingly abstract reimagining; it features Shawn (who also wrote the adaptation) as a visionary yet tyrannical middle-aged architect haunted by figures from his past. A Master Builder, like Vanya, is the result of many years of rehearsals, a living, breathing, constantly shifting work that unites theater, film, and dream.