Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Dear Jack, Dear Louise
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of The Woman in Black

Jake Epstein and Amelia Pedlow
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Audiences who know playwright Ken Ludwig for his farces, specifically the very successful Lend Me a Tenor, may be surprised by his newest play, Dear Jack, Dear Louise, receiving its world premiere in the Kreeger Theater at Washington's Arena Stage. It's a warm and loving two-character play based on the lives and correspondence of Ludwig's parents (a doctor and an aspiring actress) and their romance during World War II—and there isn't a slamming door in sight.

In 1942, Dr. Jacob "Jack" Ludwig (Jake Epstein) is an Army captain posted to Oregon and Louise Rabiner (Amelia Pedlow) is trying to build an acting career in New York City. Their parents know each other and think the two would get along, so Jack writes to Louise. They build a friendship, then a romance through letters as they try vainly to meet: he can't get leave because he's needed to help treat servicemen wounded in the Pacific and she's uncertain where her next job is coming from.

Although Jack and Louise do not meet face to face for most of the play, their letters serve as an ongoing conversation, and they do share one actual phone call. Beowulf Boritt's scenic design places them on an abstract set suggesting the vagaries of memory, with a few pieces of furniture representing Jack's and Louise's living quarters and a backdrop that suggests a folded and unfolded piece of paper. Jason Lyons' lighting design spreads across the backdrop like watercolors on canvas, while Linda Cho's costumes are dead-on.

Guided by Jackie Maxwell's thoughtful direction, Epstein and Pedlow embody their contrasting characters with wit and sensitivity. Jack, who comes from a small town near Philadelphia, is shy, serious, and a little intimidated by Louise, a lifelong New Yorker who loves to dance and shares her passion about seeing, as well as appearing in, theater. Ludwig maintains the underlying tension of two people building a long-distance relationship during wartime, showing how a missed connection can be as dramatic as a battle or an unsuccessful audition.

That isn't to say that the play lacks humor. Both Jack and Louise are the children of Jewish immigrants from Europe, so they share stories about the eccentricities of their families. A high point is Louise's detailed description of visiting Jack's family and meeting, in addition to his parents and sister, an enormous pack of aunts, uncles and cousins. She thinks they're charming; Jack tactfully refrains from telling her that he insisted that his family members be on their best behavior during her visit.

Arena Stage
Dear Jack, Dear Louise
November 21st - December 29th, 2019
By Ken Ludwig
Jack Ludwig: Jake Epstein
Louise Rabiner: Amelia Pedlow
Directed by Jackie Maxwell
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater
1101 6th St. SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or