By Sheila Wickouski

Arena Stage “Dear Jack, Dear Louise.”; Courtesy of Tony Powell

Arena Stage’s present to audiences for the holiday season is a classic love story. Ken Ludwig’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise will be in the Kreeger from Nov. 21-Dec. 29.

Ludwig’s father, U.S. Army Captain Jack Ludwig, is a military doctor stationed in Oregon during World War II when he begins writing to his mother, Louise Rabiner, an aspiring actress and dancer in New York City. 

Jake Epstein and Amelia Pedlow play Jack and Louise in this recounting of Ludwig’s parent’s courtship, which is threatened as war continues even as the young couple’s hopes to meet rise.

What is different about courtship now versus in the past? Letters versus people meeting up on the Internet?

Jake: Honestly, I think I’m the last person who should be giving courtship analysis or advice! But aside from the way that people find each other nowadays, I think courtship itself is probably similar to the past. Whether it’s letters – like in our play – or texting and communicating through social media, people are still looking for an authentic connection.

Amelia: The context of courtship during World War II was different from today. There was a sense of living for the moment and taking advantage of every second allotted because it may be your last – or the last one for the other person. It may have led to occasionally foolish or reckless love affairs. Still, it created a rather epically romantic atmosphere.

Today we have a sense of safety and comfort in American culture that makes the dating environment more casual. Focus on career and friendships is touted as a healthier outlook on life, and individuals can take their time dating around or even within a relationship, going many years before engagement. 

Of course, the written word has now primarily been replaced by online profile photos and small talk at a bar, but texting and online messaging has brought back many of the same romantic highs and lows as the letter-writing couples of the 1940’s experienced: Why hasn’t he or she written me back yet? Did I say the wrong thing? Should I go on and on about myself or ask them most of the questions? How do I let this person know that I like them without putting my heart too much on the line or frightening them off? 

This is a deeply personal story for the playwright. Did you also learn anything about love and courtship by taking on these roles?

Jake: Without sounding cheesy, I find a love story that transcends complicated circumstance really inspiring. Jack and Louise’s courtship is not perfect. It’s filled with clumsiness and comedy which makes it all the more human – to which a lot of people can relate. And as a recently married person myself, I’m incredibly moved by the vulnerability and humanity in their love and courtship.

Amelia: I was reminded not to take for granted that I have never dated anyone whose life is in immediate danger – a day to day reality for individuals around the globe. I also learned not to take for granted how comfortable contemporary underwear is – it’s like putting on battle armor to get suited up into the under layers for this costume!

Do you have any personal connections or relatable life experiences to this story?

Jake: My wife and I were in a long distance relationship for five years before we got married. Luckily we were able to visit each other, but the bulk of our relationship was through emails, phone calls and text messages. When you’re long-distance, all of a sudden the words you write or say are almost put under a microscope and are that much more meaningful. I’m excited to be able to tell the story of a long-distance love.

Amelia: The longest long-distance relationship I had lasted 5 years, so I can relate to when communication breaks down over a long distance. There is the loneliness of missing the other person, and the pain of something coming up that means plans to see each other have to be put on hold. (My own boyfriend won’t be able to see this play as he is currently running a show of his own that is a direct overlap.) 

Like Louise, I am an actress so I know the lows of missing out on a big part, the highs of booking one, and that life-changing jobs are realities. Jack’s support and encouragement of Louise in her career is one of the simplest, purest expressions of love in the piece. It is not lost on me. Every time Jack buoys her spirits or celebrates her theatrical victories, it’s a hit straight to my heart. 

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