Up and down with love
Two for the Seesaw
Two for the Seesaw is an old chestnut: a duet between mismatched lovers played out in grungy New York flats (his and hers) and on the phone. We’re talking the heavy, clunky phones of the 1950s—a time when long-distance calls were handled by an operator. The 1958 Broadway debut paired Henry Fonda with Anne Bancroft (and effectively launched her career). The largely forgotten 1962 film featured Robert Mitchum and a sweet, young thing named Shirley MacLaine.
But that was a long time ago. If you have fond memories of either, you’re probably drawing Social Security.
And that brings up two questions: Why stage Two for the Seesaw now? And how does it play in 2004? The answer to the second question is: problematically. Playwright William Gibson (the one who scripted The Miracle Worker, not the cyberpunk author of the 1980s) wrote dialogue that’s sometimes awkward—even antagonistic—by present-day, post-feminist standards.
However, the dated language supports a timeless, problematic relationship between two befuddled characters. Self-doubting Jerry is a semi-divorced lawyer from distant, rural Nebraska who still carries a torch for his ex. Spunky Gittel is wannabe dancer, still aspiring at age 29, from the Bronx. They’re attracted to each other despite their numerous differences. More to the point, they’re desperately trying—unsuccessfully—to avoid repeating bad mistakes made in romances past. Their dilemma still rings true, even if their terms of endearment sound outmoded.
In the end, it’s the acting—urged forward with smooth direction from Ken Kelleher—that makes the difference in this production. Both roles are well-cast. Matt K. Miller brings a brittle comic uncertainty to Jerry, along with touches of shyness and longing. Stephanie Gularte plays Gittel with a brassy, working-class attitude and accent, blending personal generosity with a vulnerable victim’s mentality. (Gittel’s known a lot of losers and has been the doormat for them all.)
One of the pleasures of being a reviewer is witnessing artists do good work over a period of years. So, let’s mention that Miller, during two seasons at the Sacramento Theatre Company, has given us delightful performances again and again (Arms and the Man and Fully Committed among them); and Gularte, who was a promising community player seven years ago, has matured into a versatile, confident, full-time professional.