Two for the Seesaw at Trafalgar Studios 2
Two for the Seesaw, a play written by the Tony Award-winning William Gibson in 1958, is a scaled-back romantic dramedy with a cast of just two. Therefore a particularly heavy weight rests on the leads (Elsie Bennett as Gittel and Charles Dorfman as Jerry) to make the nicely crafted, nuanced dialogue fly off the page with clarity and chemistry. That way, the conflict and the relationship they build together becomes believable, even rooted for. However, in Gary Condes’s production at Trafalgar Studios, the mark is missed.
The play follows Jerry, a lawyer and soon-to-be divorcee who’s left everything he knows behind to start afresh in New York, and Gittel, an aspiring dancer from the Bronx with a good heart and a string of failed relationships behind her, as they each attempt to navigate the complexity of their own burgeoning love in different ways.
The set is quite lovely, with lightly coloured transparent mesh walls, which at times separate the characters from each other in their respective apartments, but not from the audience. One only wishes that it had been used to its full advantage, because the see-through walls and physical closeness of their flats on stage offer plenty more opportunity for metaphor and poignancy.
Dorfman’s Jerry is a beta male vying for an affirmation of his masculinity, which, in him, translates as a need to swoop in and save someone – anyone. While his loneliness might well have been played to sympathetic effect by another actor, this iteration of Jerry comes across as weak-willed and even toxic. He can’t shake his love for his wife, and yet he’s addicted to being needed by Gittel. We see almost no chemistry between the two characters, and as such, no justification for repeating the conflict and, indeed, no good reason why they should have got together in the first place.
Dorfman blusters and rambles, but the clumsy American accent seems to hold him back from achieving much humour, depth or subtlety with his delivery. In the end, we find ourselves rooting not for the relationship, but for Gittel, who deserves far better. Not only is her character better off without Jerry, but Bennett definitely gives the stronger performance. While her accent is a little cheesy, it is consistent and it never hinders her. Her acting drags the strongest emotional responses from viewers, and the longer the play goes on the more we just want Gittel to be OK, and to realise she doesn’t need anybody: she’s strong enough on her own.
Photo: James Davidson
Two for the Seesaw is at Trafalgar Studios 2 from 12th July until 4th August 2018. Book your tickets here.