Film Review: ‘Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner’

A delightful documentary that should enchant Gregory fans as well as those new to the table

Film Review: 'Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner'

Cindy Kleine pays tribute to her famed theater-director hubby in “Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner,” with thoroughly delightful results. Gregory’s tale-spinning fluency dazzles just as much as it did in Louis Malle’s “My Dinner With Andre,” but this time with a wry familiarity all Kleine’s own. Shot at home or in various improvised rehearsal spaces — with much photographic evidence of Gregory’s sterile, unhappy childhood, as well as occasional clips from “My Dinner With Andre” and the other filmed Gregory/Wallace Shawn collaboration, “Vanya on 42nd Street” — the film juxtaposes work and biography with wondrous open-endedness, and should enchant fans as well as those new to the table.

Interspersed with various reminiscences of past productions by Gregory and his regular actors, Kleine affords tantalizing glimpses of the helmer’s greatest hits, chief among them his celebrated “Alice in Wonderland,” which ran for seven years in the 1970s. The only remaining traces of “Alice” stagecraft appear in Richard Avedon’s famous book of photographs and in short film snippets, including scenes with the three-man caterpillar and a satisfyingly chaotic tea-party excerpt. “Alice” also allows Gregory to establish a link between his private and professional lives, never very separate in any case: “ ‘Alice’ was the portrait of my childhood … plummeted into this horrifying, terrifying, insane world where everyone’s a mindfucker.”

Kleine neither elides nor naturalizes her own presence in Gregory’s life; her grounding in their shared experience instead lends a welcome, matter-of-fact transparency to the proceedings. Husband and wife had radically different Jewish childhoods, although Kleine contents herself with mere snapshots of her loud, argumentative Long Island clan, having seemingly laid those ghosts to rest in her fascinating documentary “Phyllis and Harold” (the poster for which is seen prominently on a wall in the background).

By contrast, Gregory’s upper-class Russian-Jewish family, which he likens to the despotic rulers of a small Balkan state, still exerts a certain awful fascination. Pursuing a respected historian’s claim that Gregory’s father collaborated with Hitler to destabilize the franc prior to WWII, Gregory hires researchers in Paris and Berlin to investigate the charges.

The film also continues “My Dinner With Andre’s” dialogue, Shawn functioning here as part of a dialectic between life and art. During ongoing rehearsals for “The Master Builder” (a work in progress for 14 years), Gregory sits languidly conducting a scene, in relaxed harmony with surrounding friends and family; meanwhile, in a corner of the frame, Shawn positively vibrates with knife-edge tension as Ibsen’s title character. This dual focus extends to the film’s final scene, where whether art is imitating life or vice versa is anyone’s guess.

Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner

Reviewed on DVD, New York, March 31, 2013. Running time: 108 MIN.

A Cinema Guild release of an Atlas Theater Company presentation of a Cindy Kleine production. Produced by Cindy Kleine. Co-producers, Jonathan Oppenheim, Susan Lazarus.

Directed by Cindy Kleine. Camera (color, HD), Tom Hurwitz; editor, Jonathan Oppenheim; music, Bruce Odland; sound (Dolby Digital), Peter Miller; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Sean Garnhart; animation, Lisa Crafts.

With: Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn, Lisa Joyce, Julie Hagerty, Larry Pine, Cindy Kleine.