Review: 'Dear Jack, Dear Louise' A Tender Outing At Cape Rep

By: Amy Tagliaferri

Topics: Local Theater

Lewis D. Wheeler and Jade Schuyler in “Dear Jack, Dear Louise” at Cape Rep. BOB TUCKER/FOCALPOINT STUDIO PHOTO

Not many of us remember the thrill of having a penpal, or even the thrill of getting personal letters in the mail. The concept of exchanging letters has become more, shall we say, electronic and instant these days.

For those of you who haven’t experienced a penpal, a penpal by definition is “a person with whom one becomes friendly by exchanging letters, especially someone far away whom one has never met.” Often you could create a safe world with this person who has never seen you, heard you or barely knows anyone you know. You could tell them your most intimate thoughts, your fears, your hopes and desires, anything! And then you’d anxiously wait for that letter to come to read their response to what you had written. It’s a very personal experience.   

Ken Ludwig, playwright of the Tony Award-winning “Lend Me a Tenor,” wrote “Dear Jack, Dear Louise” as a tribute to his parents and their romance. Cape Rep chose this new play (it premiered just a couple of years ago) as their first and last production in the indoor theater in 2021.  

Dr. Jack Ludwig is a U.S. Army captain stationed in Oregon treating casualties from the Pacific during World War II. Louise Rabiner is an aspiring actor/dancer living in a boarding house in New York City.  At the instigation of their parents, who know each other casually, they begin a correspondence. Louise is vivacious and confident; Jack is mild-mannered and shy. Most of their dialogue consists of Jack and Louise verbalizing their letters, except for a brief phone call. The back-and-forth is filled with laughs, tears, anxiety, joy and frustration as the two get to know each other over the months, then years, with the backdrop of the war along with everyday life problems.

Lewis D. Wheeler and Jade Schuyler give tour de force performances as Jack and Louise. The chemistry they created in Cape Rep’s 2018’s “The Tuna Goddess” is recreated here. Wheeler’s steady-as-it-goes persona (“You’re a doctor? Way to bury the lead!” says Louise in an early letter) and then his animation at the possibility of actually seeing Louise, is fascinating to witness. Schuyler is dramatic right from the get-go, conveying disappointment or success impressively. Her mimicry of a scene from “Arsenic and Old Lace” is hilarious, as is Wheeler’s imagined horror at Louise meeting his mother’s 11 sisters.  “You have 11 aunts?”

Under Art Devine’s direction, these two transfixed the audience opening night.  Ryan McGettigan’s intricate set design of two “islands” reflecting the two separate locations, backdropped by floating letters, was excellent. Not one detail was overlooked: Susan Nicolson’s lighting was spot on, Robin McLaughlin’s costumes (especially Louise’s) were wonderfully detailed, Maura Hanlon’s sound design captured the era, and stage manager Anthony Teixeira overseeing his multiple duties was on cue. 

How sweet it is to be inside this theater again. This production brought us to tears more than once. Don’t miss this show. The show is about two hours with a brief intermission; masks and a vaccination card are required.

DETAILS:
"Dear Jack, Dear Louise"
At Cape Rep Theatre
Through Nov. 21, Wednesdays to Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. in the indoor theater.
Information and reservations:  508-896-1888 or www.caperep.org