During World War II, Cpt. Jacob “Jack” Ludwig, an Army surgeon, began a correspondence with aspiring actress, Louise Rabiner. Over the course of 3 years, their trading of messages blossomed into true love. Follow the evolution and the ups and downs of their relationship in Dear Jack, Dear Louise currently playing at the Omaha Playhouse.
Ken Ludwig called this show a love letter to his parents as it is based on the true story of their courtship. I don’t know if he used the actual letters written by his parents, but if he didn’t, he certainly managed to replicate the feel of a mail correspondence. The dialogue of the letters perfectly captures that initial spark of interest, the getting to know each other, even the difficulties and squabbles every relationship undergoes, and the glow of real love. It is also laced with the trademark wit and humor of Ludwig, but also shows his skills as a dramatic writer as he features some heavy moments that have all the subtlety of kissing a runaway freight train.
Susie Baer-Collins provides an outstanding piece of direction with the production, possibly one of her very best and that is saying something. Her sure hand deftly handles this variation on the duologue and the conversations always snap and sparkle with realism and vitality. I absolutely loved the staging with one character always slightly in front of another to show that they were in two different places. Baer-Collins also pulled an extraordinary pair of performances from her two thespians. If the quality of this show is an indicator of the rest of the season, it’s going to be an amazing ride at the Playhouse this year.
Over the past few seasons, Josh Peyton has established himself as one of the most believable actors in Omaha. There is an extemporaneousness and naturalness to his performances that makes it seem like he is never acting, just being. And this show is certainly no exception. Peyton is sensational in the role of Jack Ludwig. He reminded me of my own pop (who courted my mother through letters and tapes during the Vietnam War) with his quiet nature and dry wit. His timidity in his early letters is so sweet and it was a joy to watch his confidence grow in proportion to his burgeoning love for Louise. Peyton’s reactions are always just right and equal parts hilarious and haunting when the moment calls for them. He also has a superb physicality which not only strengthen those expressions and reactions, but tells stories of their own such as dodging bullets and bombs and crawling through the dirt during hellish battles of the war.
I see great things in store for Sarah Schrader’s theatrical future after her phenomenal debut in this show. She is an absolute dynamo as Louise Rabiner and just seemed to quiver with energy. Schrader was a perfect blend of sweet and tart as she could write very sensitive letters and then drop an epithet or pitch a mild fit in the blink of an eye. Her animation blew out the scale and was always appropriate for the high energy actress with an obvious joie de vivre. Schrader was equally impressive in the show’s heavier moments as she deals with the heartaches and fears of courting a soldier.
John Gibilisco’s usage of sound was some of the best I’ve heard in a show especially with the explosion of bombs and the belching of gunfire. Jim Othuse created a simple set of tables, wardrobe, and shelves that provide the audience an opportunity to fill in the rest of the details with their own imaginations. Othuse’s lights were remarkable with the flashing lights of rockets, the solo spotlights of sadder moments, and the lighting up of the theatre for VE Day. Lindsay Pape’s costumes were spot on with Ludwig’s period military uniform and fatigues and the elegant 40s style dresses for Louise.
This was one of the most personally satisfying shows I’ve seen in recent years and, though the season be young, I think Peyton & Schrader have set an awfully high bar in terms of performances. Get a ticket and you’ll see what I mean.
Dear Jack, Dear Louise runs at the Playhouse through Sept 19. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets stat at $36 and can be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by calling 402-553-0800, or visiting www.omahaplayhouse.com. The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.