At 75 years old, Alan Wade has had a long and distinguished career in the Washington, DC, theater scene, both as a director and performer.
The actor, who is currently starring as Sam Beckett in Washington Stage Guild’s production of Sam and Dede, or My Dinner with André the Giant, has announced that this will be his final role on stage.
Considering Beckett is one of his two favorite playwrights — the other being the Bard — it seems only fitting that he takes his last bow portraying the Irish novelist at a theater where he’s directed five shows and performed in five others, including playing Uncle Vanya in the Stage Guild’s inaugural production in 1986.
“I think I have done enough theater — and it’s not that I wouldn’t do any more acting, but it would have to be in a different medium,” he says. “The rehearsal period and doing the plays repeatedly, I think I have done that enough. This is indeed ‘sayonara’ to that medium of acting.”
Wade’s love of acting harkens back to when he was 12 years old growing up in Pittsburgh, when a school run by the Catholic dioceses and headed by a nun annually put on a religious-themed local television program.
“I got to play the Angel Gabriel; I had wings on some Christmastime half-hour show, and the bug bit then,” he recounts. “Although my small Catholic high school didn’t have anything in the way of drama except for the senior class play, I had to wait until I was a senior to do that.”
He built up his resume while studying theater at Northwestern University and came to the DC area for graduate school, getting his master’s degree at Catholic University. “I went out on a tour with the National Players, which was then part of CU’s drama department.”
During the tour, Wade did a stint in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and came back and completed his degree in drama.
In 1972, he earned his equity card at Center Stage in Baltimore but decided that acting full-time wasn’t really what he wanted. That led him to teaching at Townson State University, and he made the decision to return to Northwestern to achieve his Ph.D. in what is now known as performance studies.
Wade returned to the District in 1977 to teach at George Washington University, eventually heading the drama department, and lasted 40 years at the school, until he retired in 2017.
“Over those 40 years, I did a lot of theater here in Washington,” Wade says, explaining he was never looking to give up acting. “It took me seven years from the time I started at GW before I could really engage in doing any theater work because I was also writing my dissertation.”
By 1984, Wade was back on stage, coaxed by Richard Pilcher to be part of the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, and he performed in both The Taming of the Shrew and The Tragedy of Macbeth, playing Petruchio and Banquo, respectively.
Not long after, the Washington Stage Guild called offering him the Uncle Vanya part, and he followed that up with a few plays at the Potomac Theatre Project before it moved to New York.
During the ’90s, Wade’s name could be seen in Playbills all over the area, with performances at Olney Theatre Center, Studio Theatre, MetroStage, and more. To not interfere with his teaching, a majority of the shows were done during his summer breaks, though he did have one fateful year where he tried to do four shows during the academic year, and he needed to bow out of the last one.
“It was possible to do both, as long as they would work around my teaching schedule,” he says.
Looking back over his career, Wade admits he’s never not enjoyed any of his roles, but the ones that stand out most were Serge in Art by Yasmina Reza at Olney Theatre in 2001; Neils Bohr in Olney Theatre’s production of Copenhagen in 2004; Michael in Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me at Studio Theatre in 1994; and several he performed at the Washington Stage Guild, including his debut there.
“When I retired at the University, Leslie Jacobson directed a production of King Lear, in which I played Lear,” Wade notes. “To say King Lear is enjoyable might be the wrong way to describe one’s experience with it, but that was a production I treasured as well.”
Now that he’s retiring from the stage, Wade will look to take some time to do some of the other things he enjoys in life. For one, he will continue doing voice work for audiobooks, and he and his wife are planning some big vacations — including a month-long trip to Italy, three weeks in Mexico, and a three-week trip to Greece all on the horizon.
The happy couple will also do some gardening, and of course, spend time with their 11-year-old granddaughter.
And Wade is firm in his stance that nothing is going to change his mind about his acting retirement.
“It’s not that it wasn’t all enjoyable, especially the rehearsals,” he offers, reiterating that he’s not going to miss the repetition. “I’m old enough, I’ve done it long enough, and I’m fine with my decision.”
Still, audiences have one last opportunity to see Wade’s work, as Sam and Dede, or My Dinner With André the Giant, a two-hander he does with Benjamin Russell, will be staged until February 6.
Wade added one doesn’t need to be familiar with Beckett’s plays to appreciate his character, as there is enough in the play that addresses some of the issues he had as a writer, and the same is true for the wrestling career of Andre “The Giant” Roussimoff.
“It’s an imagined development of a friendship between the two of them,” Wade explains, adding the show was delayed two years due to the pandemic. “This is a wonderful production, and it’s only the third professional production. There’s a good number of laughs with it. It’s very charming and I’m very pleased to go out with this one.”
Sam and Dede, or My Dinner with André the Giant plays through February 6, 2022, presented by Washington Stage Guild performing in The Undercroft Theatre at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC. Tickets ($50–$60, with half off for students and $10 off for seniors) can be purchased online.
Running Time: One hour 45 minutes, including a 10-minute intermission.
COVID Safety: Masks are required for all and attendees must present a photo ID and show proof that they meet the CDC definition of being fully vaccinated at the time of entry into the theater with a physical or digital copy of their vaccination card.
A writer and a wrestler’s odd bond drives ‘Sam and Dede’ at Washington Stage Guild (review by Chad Kinsman)
‘King Lear’ at George Washington University (review by John Stoltenberg)