The Omaha Community Playhouse opened their 2021-2022 season to a standing ovation with “Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” a tale of intimacy overcoming disconnection that is sure to resonate with audiences beyond its opening night. It stars Josh Peyton and Sarah Schrader as Jack and Louise, respectively, and is directed by Susan Baer Collins.
Written by award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig—and based on the real-life correspondence of his parents—“Dear Jack, Dear Louise” is a dramatized exchange of letters between Louise and pen-pal/romantic interest Jack during World War II. She’s an aspiring actress in New York, he’s a disciplined doctor in the Army, and they’re quite a pairing on the stage.
The two leads (though that term might be a bit superfluous considering it’s a cast of two) are entirely worthy of the clever script.
Schrader brings an excitement and energy that the best of scripts couldn’t produce on its own. The production could have very easily become lopsided as, on paper, Jack’s wartime correspondence might offer more intrigue, yet Louise and her actress ensure that there’s never a dull moment on the civilian side of the letters.
Peyton inhabits his role well, as disciplined, dorky Jack grows into some confidence and the occasional smooth line. Both actors deliver on the comedy that the script delivers, and Peyton in particular, manages to find humor in the spaces between the lines.
While the characters might not be quite as dynamic as their potential could allow (growth in a predictable direction isn’t inherently bad—all trees climb upward), the structure of the script maintains audience interest. The back-and-forth letter writing allows for our understanding of the characters to progress at a natural and engaging pace. All exposition fits right in contextually, as the play could technically (and facetiously) be described as two characters simply explaining things to each other.
Beyond the way it dispenses information, the script’s format creates many interesting situations. Though it is essentially one conversation, it isn’t tied down to one location or small block of time. We see a relationship that develops over years bloom in just a few real-time hours, with all the little details filled in through the conversation. Letter-writing formalities are included and excluded in equal measure for effects both practical and dramatic—some of the show’s most emotional moments come from the choices our characters make in signing their letters.
Every drop of humor and heart is wrung out of the source material by the team that brought it to life. Director Susan Baer Collins (who received an enthusiastic ovation of her own as she introduced the play) seems to have been impassioned by her own family history in the production of this work—her parents occupied the same roles as a military doctor and actress in World War II, and it’s easy to see her appreciation for their dynamic at the very heart of “Dear Jack, Dear Louise.”
“Dear Jack, Dear Louise” will be at the Omaha Community Playhouse until September 19, 2021. Tickets are currently available for purchase by phone at (402) 553-0800, online at OmahaPlayhouse.com or in person at the OCP Box Office.