Finding true love in New York is, if you believe the playwrights and scriptwriters, impossibly tough. In a city of nearly nine million people, The Big Apple doesn’t do hearts and flowers. Never has and never will.
So the relationship between earnest, intense and lonely Jerry and the “crackpot lovable waif,” Gittel, in William Gibson’s debut play, the 1958 noirish melodrama, Two For The Seesaw, smacks of desperation rather than full-on romance.
Charles Dorfman’s Buckland Theatre Company has revived the play for London’s Trafalgar Studios 2 and the intimate space works well for this very intimate story of opposites hoping to attract.
He stars as the brooding Jerry, a Nebraska lawyer who has fled the sticks, and his marriage, in a bid for some sort of independence, away from the handouts he’s relied upon from his wife and her father ever since college.
But New York City isn’t paved with gold any more than London. He’s spent the last month in a bare, dingy apartment talking to no-one but his own shadow and he’s going stir crazy.
When we first meet the pair he’s plucked up the courage to call the lovely redhead he saw at a party last night, she is dashing about her homely flat, bringing in shopping, heating her favourite warm milk – to help with an ulcer (NYC can do that to you) – and working on a costume she’s making.
A lot of this (mostly) humourless two-hander is conducted via short, sharp phone calls as the pair take the first uneasy steps in their courtship.
They are the unlikeliest of pairs from spheres that you can’t imagine ever colliding and, if they did, they’d run as far from each other as possible.
But they’re both needy in their own ways. Gittel, a failed dancer, is scratching a living in-between suffering with her ulcer, and any hopes and dreams that she may have had growing up in the Bronx seem pretty much dashed.
Elsie Bennett (giving a great Jewish, Noo-York accent) does the best she can with Gittel but she’s a bit of a product of her time.
There’s little strong-willed feminine independence and more a plaintiff mewling as she comes to rely on the strong, masterful Jerry as an emotional crutch, constantly begging his approval, craving his love, yearning for a stable relationship.
But Dorfman’s Jerry is not the man for her. He’s too wrapped up in his own angst. Unable to leave his marriage behind he wears it like a ball and chain. He can’t move on and he can’t go back. The man is an emotional mess and, despite Gittel offering love on a plate, not a happy man.
As cool jazz riffs play in the background Jerry glowers, fiddles with his hat and looks so severe that at times I half expected him to keel over with a heart attack. Far from making him happy, his relationship with Gittel, is stormy and combative.
They can’t spend three minutes in each other’s company without fireworks – and not of the passionate kind.
Both Dorfman and Bennett deliver fine performances but the plot is overwhelmingly dark with very little light to lift the seesaw of their explosive affair.
Any happiness is short-lived and, instead, this transient and ill-matched couple stagger from one disappointment to another, putting audiences through an emotional wringer.
Two For The Seesaw runs in Trafalgar Studios 2 until August 4.
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Two For The Seesaw
Review. Charles Dorfman & Elsie Bennett deliver fine turns in this dark and intense story of love in 1950s New York, played out amid cool jazz riffs and explosive confrontations.