André Gregory: Before and After Dinner

It is widely believed that simply pointing a camera at André Gregory is a good way for a filmmaker not to go wrong. Probably this truism was established by Louis Malle’s 1981 film My Dinner with André, in which theater director Gregory and playwright Wallace Shawn dined together and discussed art and life. The legacy of that film certainly explains why an affectionate new documentary tribute to Gregory by his second wife, Cindy Kleine, goes by the name André Gregory: Before and After Dinner. Lacking Malle’s finesse, and maybe some critical distance, Kleine does at least make the key right move of pointing a camera at André Gregory. He remains an engrossing raconteur, and, in riveting snippets of rehearsal for Shawn’s adaptation of Ibsen’s The Master Builder, as attentive and articulate a director as any thespian might want. Kleine’s great access also allows a glimpse at Gregory’s quaintly avant-garde 1970 production of Alice in Wonderland, here described as “the portrait of my childhood” — in particular “an insane world where everyone’s a mindfucker” or an authoritarian from whom you can never get a straight answer, let alone a hug. Gregory was not close to his parents, who emigrated from Lithuania, changed their family name, and “forgot to tell their children they were Jews,” possibly because dad also was a spy for Hitler. In its deceptively relaxed style, Before and After Dinner becomes a portrait of the artist as a restless truth-seeker. Some patience is required. “All you need is a tiny room with a few friends, and you can make a miracle,” Gregory says. “With time.”