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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Marin Theater Company Presents
Two for the Seesaw

Also see Richard's review of Damn Yankees


The Marin Theatre Company is presenting the final production of their current season with the rarely produced dramatic comedy, Two for the Seesaw. Playwright William Gibson's first major hit on Broadway, this two character play has an interesting background. Henry Fonda, the male lead in the role of Jerry Ryan, had a running battle with Mr. Gibson over the writing. Fonda had difficulty defining his character as a conservative lawyer. There was much dissension between the author and cast, and many rewrites occurred during the early weeks of rehearsal. Lainie Kazan, who was originally scheduled for the female lead as Gittel, pulled out during rehearsals and an unknown aspiring actress, Anne Bancroft, was brought in to take over the role. She had never appeared on the Broadway stage and the producer and director were nervous.

The play finally opened at the Booth Theatre on January 16, 1958, and the reviews for Ms. Bancroft were wonderful. Variety said the actress was "an attractive, interesting looker with a strong personality and is a prospect for a big career". Henry Fonda got negative reviews saying he was aloof from the character. Two For the Seesaw ran for 750 performances based on the star power of Mr. Fonda and the great reviews for Ms. Bancroft, who won the Tony for Best Actress that year.

The play was made into a film three years later by United Artists with Robert Mitchum and Shirley McLane taking over the roles. The producers also opened up the play by putting in other characters and the minimalist text was lost. The movie was only a moderate success.

Composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Dorothy Fields liked the storyline and made it into a kicky musical with Michelle Lee and Ken Howard taking over the roles. They also put in a new character to liven up the plot. Tommy Tune made one of his first Broadway appearances in the fun musical, and it made him a star. It opened at the Uris Theatre on March 18, 1973. It had a rocky road trying to stay open, with actors taking pay cuts, but it closed after 296 performances. I saw it during the summer months when John Gavin replaced Ken Howard and I loved the musical.

Two for the Seesaw is rarely performed today since it is very dated. The dialogue is strictly from the '50s with many references to New York during that period. The play needs strong charismatic actors to put it across.

Jerry Ryan, an unhappily married lawyer, is going through a messy divorce from his wife in Omaha. She is the rich daughter of a highly successful lawyer. The play opens when Jerry "escapes" to Manhattan in an effort to find himself. He is broke, out of work and forced to live in a crummy walk-up apartment. He's also lonely since he hasn't met anyone during his first month's stay. He meets a liberal young woman named Gittel at a party and gives her a call. Nature takes it course during the three act, two intermission play as the unlikely relationship develops between the conservative lawyer and the liberal free-spirited dancer. No "wine and roses" romance, they fight, argue, break up and make up during the three hour period. Eventually, they both realize that although they love each other, they cannot be happy together.

Two of the Bay Area's favorite actors, James Carpenter and Amy Resnick, play the mismatched couple. Mr. Carpenter seems ill at ease playing the indecisive Jerry in the first act, however he does manage to get into the character for the second and third acts. At first, Ms. Resnick sounds like Fran Drescher in a sitcom, with her fake Jewish Bronx accent. However, she softens the accent by the second and third acts, and is able to carry the role. The play is very dated and seems more like a staged version of a network television series than theater.

The set design by Leigh Henderson is quite striking. Two apartments are set on the large stage; the left side is Jerry's run down cold water flat and the right side is Gittel's nicer apartment. Scenes change when the actors appear in one or the other apartment.

Two for the Seesaw runs through June 7 and is the last production of the 2001-02 season. Tickets can be obtained by calling (415)388-5208, or visiting www.marintheatre.org. The new 2002-03 season starts on September 5 with Allan Knee's romantic comedy, Synocopation.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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