'Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner': An old friend picks up new charm ★★★

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Those who discovered "My Dinner With Andre" in their college years, when the allure of far-flung conversation over a meal was something new and otherworldly, can never forget the wonderful simplicity and rightness of that 1981 film. In it, experimental theater director and sometime actor Andre Gregory played a version of himself — a restless seeker, a fragile being, a man who loved to rehearse a play forever, or nearly forever — opposite his friend and colleague Wallace Shawn's stoic rationalist.

Now in a weeklong revival at the Siskel Film Center, director Louis Malle's surprise hit is paired with a new film, a fond documentary made by Gregory's wife, Cindy Kleine. "Before and After Dinner," which brings us up to date on Gregory's theatrical endeavors, Kleine's and Gregory's relationship, health challenges and shadowy ancestral influences (Gregory's father, an undiagnosed manic-depressive, had business ties to Hitler).

Kleine's camera brings us close to the ad hoc rehearsals, steered gently by Gregory, of Ibsen's "The Master Builder." Several of the ensemble members featured in the great 1994 "Vanya on 42nd Street" return for the Ibsen project. Gregory has been exploring the play for 14 years. "A tiny room with a few friends, and you can make a miracle," he says at one point, describing his avocation.

When they met, Kleine was 29 and Gregory was 63. The realities of the age difference are dealt with straightforwardly. A film version of Gregory's production of "The Master Builder," titled "Fear of Falling" and directed by Jonathan Demme, is expected later this year. In "Before and After Dinner," Kleine watches Gregory watching his actors, his hand floating like a conductor's. The look on his face suggests a man who found his calling.

"Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner" and "My Dinner With Andre," June 28-July 4, Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.; siskelfilmcenter.org. Running time: 1:48.mjphillips@tribune.com

Twitter @phillipstribune

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