New York, 1958: two lonely people falter into one another’s orbit and end up sleeping together. It’s rather like Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, only with less damaged individuals. He’s Jerry Ryan, an attorney from Nebraska on the run from an on-off divorce. She’s Gittel Mosca, a Jewish seamstress from the Bronx who kids herself that she might have a career as a dancer. There’s a strong sexual attraction between them, which he articulates by wittily calling her ‘buoyant in the bow, swivelly in the stern and spicy in the hatch. I think you’re a mixed-up girl: calmly considered, your bottom is tops.’ They stay together for eight months before it becomes clear that the relationship is going nowhere: like the occupants of a seesaw, they are mutually interdependent but destined never to be perfectly aligned, one always up when the other is down and vice versa.
William Gibson’s bittersweet comedy Two for the Seesaw was a Broadway hit when it opened in January 1958 with Henry Fonda and Anne Bancroft; it ran for 750 performances at the Booth Theatre, closing at the end of October 1959, and was then filmed in 1962 with Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine.
But this is a play without a spanking scene: the closest it gets is a moment in the second act when they have an argument about her promiscuity, and he hits her in the face with a rolled-up newspaper. So none of this history is directly relevant to our subject, except in establishing that it was a popular success ripe for revival beyond Broadway. And with that, we turn our attention to the production that graced the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts for six performances in August 1960. Leland Starnes played Jerry, and Gittel was the young Suzanne Pleshette.
And, happily, it looks as if the director decided she should have something better than a smack in the face…