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‘Dear Jack, Dear Louise’ is a heartwarming tale

KAREN ELIAS

Millbrook’s 59th season has begun, with an impressive lineup of shows coming our way!

The current offering, opening on June 17 at the Poorman Cabaret, is “Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” a heartwarming story from playwright Ken Ludwig, whose work — including “Lend me a Tenor,” “Baskerville,” “Fox on the Fairway,” and “Comedy of Tenors” — we have come to love. The Contra Costa Times has said of Ludwig that he “is to contemporary domestic stage comedy what Arthur Miller was to the dramatic theater of his time.”

“Dear Jack, Dear Louise” represents a departure from Ludwig’s usual fare. In it, as he has stated in interviews, he decided to try something new: using the exchange of letters between his parents — letters they actually wrote to each other during World War II — as the basis for a play. The resulting drama, though it certainly has its comic moments, moves beyond domestic comedy to trace the blooming, and then deepening, of a romance born not in the drawing room but in the midst of the ravages and atrocities of war.

The first comically awkward attempts at communication between Jack and Louise begin after their fathers, who are friends, decide the two should get to know each other, even though they are 3,000 miles apart. Jack is a doctor, stationed with the army in Oregon, and Louise is an aspiring actress living in Brooklyn. It soon becomes clear that temperamentally, the two could not be more different. He is bashful, pragmatic, and careful; she’s excitable, bossy and passionate.

She’s a dancer.

He doesn’t dance.

We watch with delight as these two entirely different, entirely endearing people begin to move, long-distance, to a dance of their own making. While she auditions for “Arsenic and Old Lace” and he worries about the effects of war on his patients, they are opening up to the possibility of a relationship that will somehow become large enough to encompass their personalities and their varied life experience.

The happy ending that seems nearly in reach is threatened as both are thrust out of their safety zones into the larger, more demanding — and dangerous — world. The two actors do an excellent job of conveying the unsettling nature of this transition where they are challenged deeply in ways they never anticipated. Thane Madsen, who is making his debut at Millbrook this summer, wends his way right into our hearts as he allows his growing admiration for Louise to show him new ways of appreciating life. And Melody Ladd, who appeared at Millbrook previously in “Fox on the Fairway” and “Gaslight,” reveals a growing strength of character as she is faced with the awful realities of war and understands how they impinge directly on her life and her relationship. The foundation of their connection shifts as the two share vulnerabilities — and discover hidden strengths. The actors embody wonderfully the terror and the joy of this magical coming together.

Kudos to Amanda Coffin for her direction. Amanda, who is currently Production Manager for Villanova University’s MA in Theater Program, directed “Savannah Sipping Society” and “Gaslight” previously at Millbrook. She was challenged by a play involving only two characters who communicate by way of the written word, but the pace of the production is always lively and compelling, and the joy at play’s end is entirely earned.

Summer’s almost here. Millbrook’s alive and well. Come out to support our amazing local theatre! Call (570) 748-8083 and get a ticket for “Dear Jack, Dear Louise.”

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