There are plays that should never be resurrected, and Two for the Seesaw is probably one of them. For starters, the outdated language (and the actors’ over-the-top articulation of it) obfuscates the story: emasculated divorcé from the Midwest meets kooky Jewish girl from the Bronx who wants to be a dancer and lives on the Lower East Side. They’re both unemployed and are hard nuts to crack—they can’t decide if they need to be cared for or taken care of, who’s the hustler and who’s the hustled. But by the end, by golly, they’ve really learned a lot about themselves from the relationship and will go on to bigger and better things. Considering that William Gibson’s play was written in the 1950s and takes place in 1956, guess which gender gets shafted?
Bain Boehlke’s director’s note promises much more than the play delivers. In 1950s America, Boehlke writes, the country was a pressure cooker waiting to explode: the women’s, civil rights, and gay rights movements “burst onto the scene,” forever shattering the white male-dominated hegemony on which America was founded. Two For the Seesaw, he claims, is therefore the story—er, metaphor?—of two people perched precariously on the lid that’s about to blow off and hit the guys right where it hurts.
Yet none of these ideas appear anywhere on the Jungle stage. As usual, the set, designed by Boehlke, is beautifully crafted and serves as the central locus for the play’s emotional resonance. The lighting design by Barry Browning and sound by Sean Healey are stellar as well. Unfortunately, the actors seem lost and unfocused, and the whole production feels as if it’s trapped in time. The social and political turmoil supposedly boiling beneath the play’s surface simply doesn’t come through. Consequently, the play feels as if it has no cohesive core, no heart.
The actors, Stephen Cartmell and Maggie Chestovich (above, courtesy Elizabeth R. MacNally), were wonderful as lusting lovers in Jeune Lune’s recent production of Tartuffe. Here, they’re about as compatible as an elephant and a chihuahua. In Act One, Chestovich veered on the edge of caricature, with her generalized New Yawk accent, anxious hair fluffing, and flopping hands. In Acts Two and Three (yup, three), Chestovich redeemed herself and acted the hell out of her role. This is good, because Cartmell, to continue with the animal analogy, is the chihuahua. He’s all yap, no substance, blustering but obviously fragile, an insecure animal that bites out of fear.
Instead of writing fabulous program notes, Boehlke would have served the play better by figuring out what story he wanted to tell, deciding why it was important, and then going to town. Two for the Seesaw is a script that still has the potential to entertain and challenge, but the Jungle’s production feels as if it popped out of a time capsule, dusty and worn, as if half a century of social progress had never happened—and worse, didn’t really need to happen.