Actors Save the Day at “Dear Jack, Dear Louise”
Shakespeare & Company have opened their season with the prize-winning play “Dear Jack, Dear Louise” by America’s most prolific comic playwright, Tony winner Ken Ludwig, at their outdoor Roman Garden Theatre in Lenox, MA, and for a long stretch in the opening of the play, everything looks copacetic. The play by the terribly facile, successful playwright claims to be based on his parent’s WWII wartime correspondence and we follow their epistolary romance for over three years feeling their long separation and yearning keenly.
The opening of the play, where our two lovers, David Gow playing Jack and Zoya Martin playing Louise, meet cute and introduce us to themselves, each other and their circumstances is the most successful section of the play terrifically directed by Ariel Bock. The two actors are invaluable to our afternoon’s enjoyment, and they shine brightest playing off each other through their reactions to the letters and mailboxes as a doctor serving at an Army camp in Medford, OR and an aspiring actress from Brooklyn chasing her showbiz dreams at the Curtain Call Boarding House. The letters are flying fast and furious after introductions are made and they come off nearly as dialogue when the actors stand side by side and some letters are simply one word. We appreciate this device as an audience but as in most of Ludwig’s plays it is another invention of his that strains our suspension of disbelief.
Both actors are charming, energetic and fantastically likeable as Ludwig contrives to keep them apart for three years with an emergency at the hospital, a Broadway tour of the Northeast and the inevitable shipment overseas. Gow plays the more circumspect and reserved Jack with great humor, clumsy dancing and surprising reserves of feeling. Martin is effervescent, high spirited, ready to play a scene with herself and change her dress (beautifully costumed by Govane Lohbauer) at least four times. They are a couple we can easily cheer for and do at the extended standing ovation of a curtain call.
The play is too long (especially for an outdoors theater) and Act II tested my patience mightily with many unnecessary bumps and turns, plus a lengthy quote from Churchill that came out of nowhere. I am no fan of Ludwig but there was a brief shining moment in the first act where I was smitten with the romance, largely due to the two superlative actors and their intrepid director.
Dear Jack, Dear Louise runs through 7/30 and tickets are available at www.shakespeare.org or 413-637-3353.