The prolific American playwright, Ken Ludwig, is at his best in comedies set in the past with a main character who loves performing. Ludwig returns to this premise in Dear Jack, Dear Louise, which is his finest script since the much-praised and much-produced Lend Me a Tenor and Crazy for You.
The New Jewish Theatre’s brilliant staging of Dear Jack, Dear Louise is certain to be among the outstanding comedies of the year.
The play is a fictious correspondence from 1942 to 1945 between two real people, Ludwig’s parents. “Captain Jacob S. Ludwig, U.S. Army” is how Jack Ludwig signs his first letter to Louise Rabiner. He is a doctor. She is a stage-struck graduate of New York’s High School of Performing Arts. Their fathers are friends, and they have suggested Jack and Louise should “meet and get acquainted in a social way.” Because he is stationed in Medford, Oregon, and she lives in Brooklyn, exchanging letters is their only way to get to know each other.
In her first reply, Louise is clearly interested but gently mocks Jack’s formality by signing her letter, “Louise R. Rabiner, private citizen.” The outgoing Louise does her best to draw out the reserved Jack. A sign of her success is that complete letters are soon replaced by bits of the correspondence from both sides spoken in rapid succession.
Ludwig’s dialogue always has the sound of written language, but Ryan Lawson-Maeske and Molly Burris convey the full emotional richness of Jack and Louise’s courtship. Under Sharon Hunter’s note-perfect direction, Jack and Louise do not interact directly, but Lawson-Maeske and Burris leave no doubt about the growing connection between the characters. These performances are gripping throughout and breathtaking at the critical moments.
Dunsai Dai’s clever scenic design divides the stage into two sides that flow into each other but still create separate spaces for Jack and Louise. His side reflects the war that keeps them apart. Hers evokes her theatrical dreams. Props supervisor Katie Orr provides wonderful items from the 1940s and earlier to complete the stage picture. Michele Friedman Siler’s period costume designs put Jack in an appropriate uniform and let Louise choose stylish options from a clothes rack on the stage. David LaRose’s lighting and Amanda Werre’s sound ratchet up the tension at the play’s most harrowing moments. Intimacy coordinator Jamie McKittrick makes a crucial contribution.
Dear Jack, Dear Louise continues through June 26 in the Wool Studio Theater in the Jewish Community Center’s Arts and Education Building, 2 Millstone Campus Drive.
Photo by Jon Gitchoff