Amelia Pedlow has looked at life from both sides now, and that includes Ken Ludwig’s play, “Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” in which she is costarring with Bill Army.
This two-hander, based on the real-life experience of Ludwig’s parents, began in previews on October 26 and opens officially on Friday, October 29, 2021.
The dialogue consists of letters exchanged during World War II between a fledgling actress, Louise Rabiner, and a U.S. Army captain, Jack Ludwig, after their fathers, who are friends, decide that their kids might like to meet.
The potential liaison is complicated by the fact that Jack, a doctor, is stationed in Oregon and Louise lives in New York City, and by the realities of wartime service that first keep Jack at his post and then require his deployment overseas.
Pedlow, a Juilliard graduate, has played this role before—at the Arena State in Washington, D.C. in December 2019, not long before the COVID virus shut down virtually all forms of live entertainment.
Nearly two years later, she said, she has a greater appreciation for the play, and that’s precisely because of the pandemic, its effect on every-day activities and its impact on millions of lives.
With that context, the notion of a man and a woman building a romance by exchanging letters while the world was at war took on new meaning.
“Having gone through the trauma of the pandemic,” she said, “I understand the desire for normalcy amid that kind of horror.”
The war of the 1940s and the pandemic have been similar in the sense that they have loomed over every aspect of life.
“Now I have a much clearer understanding of that,” Pedlow said. “It seems impossible, living through that war day in and day out, waking up every day and seeing in the newspapers what they were seeing. I can’t imagine it.”
Of course, that war and this pandemic have taken place in very different eras, and the fact that Jack and Louise go a-courting by writing letters across a continent is a dramatic example of that. The instantaneous communication of the 21st century was unknown, not dreamed of, in the 1940s.
But, Pedlow noted, the pace of letter writing, which would be intolerable to most lovers now, is essential to the environment of this play. And the fact that this play consists entirely of that lost form of engagement is not a problem, she said. Far from it:
“This brings to life letter-writing as a form of theater. The moment when Louise says ‘I love you’ for the first time, it’s not to a face, it’s not seeing his reaction. She sends a letter, she waits days—weeks—to see if he’s going to say it back or not say it back. There is a power in letters, and time that passes between them is palpable in the theater. Letter-writing doesn’t make the story stiff or cold; it makes it an exciting play.”
Besides its slow pace, that letter-writing is marked by the reserve of a bygone era, particularly on the part of Jack.
“It takes over a year before he even asks her for a photo,” Pedlow said. “Now, photos come before there is any kind of interaction.”
Still, Pedlow said, the emotional experience shared by Ludwig’s parents and the characters in his play is not altogether foreign to the experience of lovers today.
When Jack and Louise don’t hear from each other for what seems like too long a time, she said, “it’s emotionally similar to sending a text or an email to someone you care about and not hearing back. ‘Did I say the wrong thing?’ ‘Did I answer too quickly?’ You’re second-guessing yourself; you’re worrying about it. Your whole life spins out of control.
“In a beautiful way, it’s something people can relate to today, especially in the early stages of a relationship.”
Pedlow describes her own character in this tale as “a bit of a tornado of joy and fury” who “feels incredibly strongly about many things” and has “a beautiful set of values.”
Louise’s letters reveal “the joy and wonder of experiencing New York and the theater, and then, when the war begins to close in all around her, she’s serious and desperate to help.” And she finds a way.
Pedlow and Army will perform this letter-writing drama at George Street through November 21.
Photos by T. Charles Erickson