Members of the play-selection committee at the Omaha Community Playhouse fell in love with a love story, and they knew they had to produce it.
“Dear Jack, Dear Louise” is a 2019 piece about an Army surgeon and an aspiring actress who correspond sight-unseen during World War II. It’s based on the real-life courtship of playwright Ken Ludwig’s parents.
It was perfect to open the 2021-22 season because Playhouse officials were trying to secure plays with small casts in the ever-changing pandemic.
It was also brand-new, having premiered in late November 2019 at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
That was a problem, because rights weren’t yet available to other theaters.
But director Susan Baer Collins persevered. She wrote to the licensing company and made a compelling argument for early access to the script.
And boy, I am glad she did. You will be too when you go see it.
Notice I said when, not if. This one is too good to miss.
Two actors and the small Howard Drew Theatre give this piece the intimate atmosphere it deserves. You’re in the room as Jack (Josh Peyton) and Louise (Sarah Schrader) slowly and sweetly get to know each other.
He’s reserved and thinks (even agonizes) before he writes. She’s impetuous and passionate and writes as thoughts form. They don’t have a lot in common, especially dancing. She loves it and he loathes it.
Both cast members — Peyton a Playhouse vet and Schrader a newcomer — have what it takes to fully realize Ludwig’s funny, somewhat somber and briefly harrowing love letter to his mom and dad.
I’ve seen Peyton play disparate characters: a struggling steel worker in “Sweat”; the itinerant George in “Of Mice and Men” and now an Army surgeon. He seems to morph effortlessly and authentically into each one as I watch with admiration.
And Schrader’s Louise is equally real: joyful, vivacious, loquacious, plus sorrowful and angry when the story turns darker. No doubt we will see her again at the Playhouse and in other Omaha productions.
Collins’ staging was smart, especially when scenes required the actors to leave their respective quarters. Hit music from the war years was a special touch.
Costumes, notably Louise’s 1940s dresses, were wonderful. I wouldn’t mind seeing Lindsay Pape’s designs in my closet. The set by Jim Othuse — Jack’s spare and immaculate barracks and Louise’s more colorful room in a New York boarding house — also was great.
My only quibble was that the show seemed to drag a little when the war got more real and their relationship hit a snag. That may have been because I was so taken with their brisk “getting to know you” banter.
Wait for a surprising and touching ending; don’t think it’s over when it’s not. And don’t skip the director’s program notes. You might get insight into why she persisted.
This charming and heartwarming play has minimal bad language and adult situations, so don’t hesitate to bring your older offspring.
And be prepared to share your own courtship story with the kids.