Posts Tagged ‘dear jack dear louise’

Dear Jack, Dear Louise
by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Sharon Hunter
New Jewish Theatre
June 9, 2022

Molly Burris, Ryan Lawson-Maeske
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre is currently serving as a time machine, or the closest we can probably get outside of science fiction. Its staging of Ken Ludwig’s love letter to his parents, Dear Jack, Dear Louise, portrays its time period and setting in a way that makes everything seem so astonishingly immediate. It’s billed as a “romantic comedy”, but there’s a lot more to it than that, and in the hands of the two wonderful leading performers, this is a tale that takes the audiences on a convincing emotional journey.

As made clear in the play’s promotional materials, and via pictures displayed in the lobby, this show is about two real people, playwright Ken Ludwig’s parents Jacob “Jack” Ludwig (Ryan Lawson-Maeske) and Louise Rabiner (Molly Burris), who “meet” via letters after being “set-up” by their parents in the early 1940s. I would say this is a two character play, but as staged here, there are basically four characters–Jack, Louise, the 1940s, and World War II. After an initially halting and brief first letter, their relationship grows and these two get to know each other more closely, even though they don’t actually meet in person for most of the play, despite several frustrated attempts, as the war (for Jack) and Louise’s burgeoning career as an actress and dancer intervene. Of course, because of the poster in the lobby and the promotions for the play, we know these two will eventually meet and marry, but Ludwig’s construction of the play, along with the performances and Sharon Hunter’s well-pitched direction make this a thoroughly engaging and even suspenseful story, as we the audience get to know these characters as they grow closer to one another through their letters, developing a friendship that leads to romantic feelings and expectations. The presentation is dynamic–rather than simply having the characters read the letters, they are structured more like dialogue, as the characters respond to one another more conversationally as the story develops. The growth of the relationship, along with various challenges–from personal issues and jealousy to the growing and increasingly threatening presence of the war–is portrayed in a fully credible and compelling way, as these well-drawn characters form a believable personal connection, engaging the audience in their hopes, dreams, and struggles.

Everything is developed in such a vivid way, with Dunsi Dai’s impressively detailed set and contributions by scenic artist Cameron Tesson and costume designer Michele Friedman Siler bring these characters and their world to life in a stunningly effective way. The 1940s vibe is enhanced by the pictures and posters that decorate the stage, featuring celebrities, plays, and movies from the era that are mentioned in the letters. There’s also an atmospheric soundtrack of 1940s pop hits to further set the mood, and excellent work from sound designer Amanda Were, lighting designer David LaRose, and props supervisor Katie Orr in bringing this world to vivid, dramatic life. 

As well developed as Jack and Louise’s world is here, the characters themselves are also ideally portrayed in the stunningly well-matched performances of Burris as the outgoing Louise and Lawson-Maeske as the more reserved but compassionate Jack. Both are intensely likable, portraying a range of emotions as the tone shifts between light romantic comedy and more intense drama.  Their chemistry is fully believable, as well. They’re a vibrant, complex and thoroughly winning combination, making this play all the more involving as these two embody their characters so completely and credibly. 

This show is excellent in portraying a world history event (the Second World War) in a relatably human way, as well as serving as the playwright’s tribute to his own parents, on whose early relationship this show is based. Dear Jack, Dear Louise at NJT is an effective time trip as well as a riveting romantic story. It’s another excellent theatrical experience from this celebrated theatre company.

Ryan Lawson-Maeske, Molly Burris
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre is presenting Dear Jack, Dear Louise at the J’s Wool Studio Theatre until June 26th, 2022

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