Two For The Seesaw

William Gibson
Buckland Theatre Company
Trafalgar Studios (Studio 2)

Elsie Bennett as Gittel and Charles Dorfman as Jerry Credit: James Davidson
Charles Dorfman as Jerry and Elsie Bennett as Gittel Credit: James Davidson
Charles Dorfman as Jerry and Elsie Bennett as Gittel Credit: James Davidson

Two for the Seesaw charts the ups and downs of a volatile relationship between a Nebraska lawyer licking his wounds in New York as his wife divorces him long distance and a wannabe dancer from the Bronx whose bad health has stalled her career and a succession of mismatched relationships mucked up her life.

Henry Fonda and Anne Bancroft played them in the 1958 Broadway première and Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine in the movie that followed and perhaps their personalities brought something to make you care about this couple but here it’s an uphill struggle for Charles Dorfman and Elsie Bennett to do so. William Gibson’s script doesn’t do much to help them.

Dorfman’s Jerry starts the play pacing up and down, so indecisive that he changes chairs before making the decision to pick up the telephone on which half the play’s action seems to be conducted. He dials on one side of Max Dorey’s bifurcated setting which puts Jerry's and Gittel’s apartments side by side and is answered on the other with a running gag of just missing calls and dialling at the same time.

Jerry is not just indecisive, he’s a pain and Dorfman plays him as written. Elsie Bennett gets the better deal as Gittel: she may be a Bronx Jewish girl stage stereotype but at least she is lively, which gives the actress a chance to inject some vitality.

As the play progresses from one night stand to cohabitation and after, there is little indication of timescale as it presents a succession of scenes at seesaw tipping points, thin on any background about how they live their lives or what has changed the relationship and lacking any real drama until after the interval.

It needs more than just throwing a couple of oddballs together to make interesting theatre. This couple’s cry of, “I need you, give me something to hang on to,” is one that we surely connect with.

Director Gary Condes has found the laughs when Gibson’s writing is sharpest but, though Bennett sometimes makes this formulaic 'fifties play sparkle, there is nothing momentous about this revival.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton