André is a misfit, literally. Watch the unusually large Frenchman cram himself into a Peugeot truck, contorting his limbs and grimacing until he’s miserably seated with head and shoulders sticking out the window. A mere impression of the Peugeot — front seat and steering wheel — is onstage in Washington Stage Guild’s pleasant production of Gino DiIorio’s slightly creaky play “Sam and Dede, or My Dinner With André the Giant.” But actor Benjamin Russell’s mien and movements vividly conjure the full vehicle and the discomfort of the load-in.
Sam is a misfit, too — an Irish author whose works defy tradition as much as André’s body flouts biometric norms. Both characters are based on real people: André, nicknamed Dede, is André Roussimoff, the pro wrestler and actor known as André the Giant, who appeared in the movie “The Princess Bride.” Sam is Samuel Beckett. The two reportedly knew each other, and DiIorio’s play — with a tad more diligence than inspiration — imagines a decades-spanning relationship, full of sympathy and joshing. The script charts the pair’s affinities and differences too clearly, but the awkward friendship is poignant, appealing and — as when Sam’s plot summary of “Waiting for Godot” leaves André incredulous — often funny.
Director Steven Carpenter’s production benefits greatly from Alan Wade, who is magnetic and persuasive as the reserved, modest and kindly Sam. In real life, Wade once created a one-man show based on Beckett’s writing, and his comfort with the Nobel Prize winner shows. When Sam lets slip a remark that betrays his genius and metaphysically dizzying worldview — “In my work, I am attempting to get to a blank page” — Wade gives the words just the right stoical intensity.
Russell ably takes his character from depressed child to an exuberant adult who strides around a hotel room demonstrating pro wrestling moves with relish: In the melodrama of the mat, André finds a purpose for his size. (Roussimoff lived with acromegaly, a disorder affecting growth. Russell is no giant, but he’s bigger than Wade and our imaginations do the rest.)
André’s career also makes him an ambitious show-business professional, something he shares with his Irish friend. During dinner at a comfortable hotel (Carl Gudenius and Jingwei Dai created the effective scenic design), the conversation sometimes circles industriously around similarities between Beckett’s stark, rarefied theater and wrestling’s populist flash. At other times, the dialogue milks easy incongruity: At one point, André jokily gives Sam a wrestling moniker: Beckett the Brawler.
Lighting designer Marianne Meadows creates enjoyably shivery effects in a final scene that riffs on Beckett-style absurdism. That clever but cerebral denouement doesn’t eclipse the heartwarming tale that comes before it. Heartwarming and maybe profound: What is a meet-cute odd-couple story but an affirmation that dissimilar people can get along?
Sam and Dede, or My Dinner With André the Giant, by Gino DiIorio. Directed by Steven Carpenter; costume design, Sigridur Johannesdottir; sound, Kaydin Hamby. 1 hour 45 minutes. Tickets: $50-$60. Through Feb. 6 at the Undercroft Theatre at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW. stageguild.org.