Have you ever seen a heart-warming play and struggled to hold back the tears? That’s not a problem with Dear Jack, Dear Louise, the Ken Ludwig drama at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Oh, you’re quite likely to both laugh and cry with the playwright’s future parents, a young doctor in the Army and a theater hopeful on Broadway. They’d never met face-to-face when they began corresponding in World War II. Thanks to the Playhouse mask requirement, feel free to be deeply moved by their story and let tears of joy flow privately behind your mask.
It’s possible you could be immune from the sentimental power of their story, but odds are you’ve either experienced or heard about such stories from parents, grandparents or friends who’ve known of long-distance courtships building slowly toward lifelong togetherness.
That was the case with the play’s director, Susie Baer Collins. Her own parents, like Jack Ludwig and Louise Rabiner, were a doctor commissioned soon after graduation and an aspiring actress. That surely helped her guide Josh Peyton as Jack and Sarah Schrader into their consistently charming performances.
The immigrant fathers of Jack and Louise urged them to correspond over the miles between Jack’s Army base in Oregon and her auditions for roles in New York City. The letters get off to a slow start, contrasting Jack’s shy formality inhibiting the sharing of anything personal, and the more extroverted Louise seeking more intimacy and getting only a few hometown demographics in reply.
Their exchanges begin in 1942, and a half year later Louise writes, “I met your parents,” a revelation that knocks Jack off his feet. When she writes that she has been invited to his home in Pennsylvania to also meet his sister, Jack shouts, “DO NOT GO!,” meaning he’s quickly replying in very large letters.
Eventually Louise signs, “Love,” at the close of a letter and a light bulb shines in Jack’s head. They begin to joke about meeting halfway between Oregon and NYC, maybe Bismarck, N.D., as they long for a personal rendezvous.
But that desire suffers setbacks. First when promised four-day passes are cancelled by emergency duties, later when Louise lands a role in a touring musical, and finally when he’s assigned overseas in a combat zone.
Early on we learn Louise is an avid dancer, and Jack doesn’t dance at all. When they finally meet at the end of the war, they search for each other in a throng in Times Square. You might guess what happens when they end up in a passionate embrace.
You won’t fear an unhappy ending, thanks to knowing at the start that the young couple will become parents of the playwright. And the director sums it all up in an upbeat intro about similar war stories. Yet, the audience longs along with Jack and Louise for the day they will finally meet.
I was only five when the war began and 10 when it ended, but that was old enough to still share in the nostalgia when background music reminds that “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover,” or that “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places.” But there’s much more than nostalgia, including the hope of seeing much more of Sarah Schrader, a newcomer to the Playhouse stage, and Josh Peyton, already a proven regular.
Speaking of stages, the smaller Howard Drew venue works perfectly for keeping the two actors in close proximity and seemingly communicating intimately while separated by our continent.
Dear Jack, Dear Louise runs through Sept. 19 on the Howard Drew Stage of the Omaha Community Playhouse at 6915 Cass St. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are available at ticketomaha.com or by calling the box office at 402.553.0800.