Sixty years on from its original publication, Two for the Seesaw continues to be a touching two-hander about the human condition. William Gibson’s Broadway debut, which was also turned into a movie in the sixties, sees a revival at the Trafalgar Studios in the hands of director Gary Condes. The romantic comedy drama portrays the messy beginning, ups, downs and reluctant end of a relationship, throwing some life lessons into the mix.
Jerry is a recently-divorced lawyer who has moved from Nebraska to a lousy apartment in New York to get away from it all. When he meets Gittel, a struggling dancer in her late twenties, he senses an escape from his loneliness and entices her into going out with him. It’s the start of a tumulteous affair, made up of fast-paced, witty dialogue, sharp fights and tender moments. These are two imperfect human beings, very different in character, looking for something that might not be each other.
Taking place entirely in their respective rooms, this is a text-heavy piece, with the kind of bullet-speed dialogue that is characteristic of both the time and theatre in general. It surely is entertaining, but in combination with the heavy period accents a little hard to follow, sometimes. It also gives Jerry and Gittel’s interactions a kind of heightened, unnatural feeling, and it is a welcome change, in the second act, to see their more human sides.
Condes has opted to stick with the play’s original setting in terms of staging. The costumes, accents and set all remind us of a different time, but the essence of the story is timeless. The two simple, 1950s apartments are placed adjacent to each other in a kind of split screen effect, resulting in one particularly beautiful moment in which the characters are within an inch’s reach from each other, though Jerry has just returned home after leaving Gittel hanging at her place. Less elegant are the tedious scene changes executed by theatre staff, which seem unnecessarily hindering to the flow of the piece.
Charles Dorfman and Elsie Bennett both give confident performances, with especially Bennet doing a good job pulling off a more demanding character. The couple’s emotional vulnerability towards the end is truly touching, and their last conversation – a phone call, like almost every important conversation in the play – feels the most real out of the whole night. We’re left with a bittersweet taste in our mouths, and a reconsideration of the people who have shaped us.
Merel van ‘t Hooft