Review

FST's Dear Jack, Dear Louise Is a Ken Ludwig Play with Heart

Telling the true story of a World War II courtship through letters, the comedy-drama touches and entertains.

By Kay Kipling July 8, 2024

Jordan Sobel and Maggie Lou Rader in FST's Dear Jack, Dear Louise.

Image: John Jones

Playwright Ken Ludwig has been tremendously successful with a string of popular works, including comedies like Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo, and adaptations of stage musicals and dramas. He’s known chiefly for making audiences laugh, but not necessarily for bringing a lot of heart to his stories. Dear Jack, Dear Louise, now onstage at Florida Studio Theatre’s Keating Theatre, is an exception.

It's surely because the work is a personal one, telling the true story of the courtship of Ludwig’s parents, Jack Ludwig (Jordan Sobel) and Louise Rabiner (Maggie Lou Rader), via letters during World War II. The couple’s actual letters were apparently destroyed by Louise, but one assumes the playwright knew their characters well enough to contrive some believable and often touching exchanges between them.

The pair are “introduced” to each other through their fathers, who were friends, and commence writing in a merely cordial way in 1942—Jack from the military base in Oregon where he was stationed as a doctor, and Louise from New York City, where she was an aspiring actress. Jack comes across as serious, maybe even rather starchy at first, as opposed to Louise’s more dramatic, ebullient persona, and if you didn’t already know the successful outcome of their relationship you might wonder if this epistolatory thing between them could possibly work.

Maggie Lou Rader as Louise.

Image: John Jones

But it does, and as we get to know them better, and they each other, you start rooting for them—to actually get to meet in person, after Jack is denied leave; for Louise to get the roles she so desperately wants; and for them to patch things up after a serious disruption to their blossoming love. You also get a strong sense of the era, thanks to lots of music of the time and a surprisingly effective, albeit small-scale, demonstration later in the play of gunfire and bomb sound and lighting effects.

Jordan Sobel as Jack.

Image: John Jones

Under the direction of Kristen Clippard, who knows how to build Ludwig’s dialogue (and silences) to touch the softer notes as well as hit his punch lines, Sobel and Rader have a nice chemistry together—so much so that you’re willing to accept the play’s closing “borrowed” silent vignette of an iconic World War II moment.

Rader in particular keeps you tied to Louise’s ups and downs with an energetic, engaging delivery. Her character also gets some of the funnier stories, as when Louise recounts meeting Jack’s large and expressive family in his hometown, even though she’s never yet met him. But Sobel also has a likeable presence as the quieter Jack, and portrays well his character’s very real fears as the war keeps getting closer and closer to him.

Dear Jack, Dear Louise is bound to score with a Sarasota demographic of older theater audiences, who may summon up some of their own recollections of the time period. In that sense, while the play is intimate and small, it’s also a crowd pleaser.

Dear Jack, Dear Louise continues through Aug. 11 at FST; for tickets, call (941) 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.   

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