by Adam Cohen . . .
Following Neil Simon mining personal lore for professional gain, playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor) turns tender and romantically serious with his new play “Dear Jack, Dear Louise.” The play leverages the World War II letters of Ludwig’s parents for dramatic affect.
Snail mail letters are the romantic introduction between Army doctor Jack (Bill Army) aspiring actress Louise (Amelia Pedlow) gunning for her first Broadway role. Ludwig is a pro at inducing laughter. And the actors deftly build a romantic rapport – filled with tenderness.
Jack, a shy soldier from Coatesville, Pennsylvania, has a mother who is one of 12 sibling sisters and a tailor father proud to have a doctor in the family. He’s stationed in Oregon patching up war injuries, fearing being shipped out closer to combat. Louise is an exuberant, talented actress from Brooklyn. They fall for one another through the mail system, a few phone calls and the insulation of distance. The two-hander is a perfect return to live in person performance for George Street Playhouse.
Army and Pedlow are tremendous actors who take advantage of the rich script. He stoic, shy, literate. She hopeful, optimisic, and joyful. Each gets solid moments to connect with the audience. And Pedlow provides a pitch perfect audition of multiple characters in a scene from “Arsenic and Old Lace.” She is an actress of grace and ample charm allowing Louise to be a fully realized character. Army is saddled with the less defined character who practically, out of nowhere, quotes Winston Churchill. It’s hard not to watch his inner cringe at selling enthusiasm for the quote. It is here where director David Saint and the playwright could strand a less gifted actor. As the show develops on its path to Broadway, some fine tuning will allow the character more subtle dramatic turns.
This is a deeply personal, heartfelt, warm valentine to Ludwig’s parents who had a correspondence courtship from 1941 through 1945 and never met until V-E Day in New York City.
Disavowed of a big dramatic impulse we know aforehand their relationship will survive the distance, war and loneliness. Ludwig forces second act drama that almost derails the careful tone of the production. Saint rushes the denouement and creates a bit too much bombast versus relying on the true rapport of the actors with audience and one another.
But thanks to the strong acting, writing, and directing, we actually care how it all turns out. Loaded with humor and the delicate performances of both, Dear Jack, Dear Louise works. Audiences looking for romantic fare will be largely satisfied, get some laughs and enjoy themselves. With tuning of the writing and less cringe inducing behavior that risks the relationship, Ludwig has a gripping winner.
Tickets and more information at georgestreetplayhouse.org thru November 21, 2021
Photos: T. Charles Erickson