Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Dear Jack, Dear Louise
Jack Ludwig (David Gow) is an army doctor stationed in Medford, Oregon. He comes from Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and is, by nature, shy. It takes him a while to make it known that he's a physician. On the other hand, Louise Rabiner (Zoya Martin) dreams of becoming a star, and she is fittingly feisty, extroverted, and connected, for better or worse, to her family. During the first portion of the play, Jack is a bit hesitant, reluctant to share, and uneasy about revealing his feelings. Louise, though, is out there with everything she is experiencing and thinking. It isn't surprising that she grew up in Brooklyn. "My goal in life is to be on Broadway!" she exclaims. Gow and Martin forge characters who, even if apart, appear to complement one another handsomely. Each is appealing and it's tough not to root for a happy ending.
Director Ariel Bock's significant contribution to the success of this production cannot be overstated. Having performed, directed, and taught for and with Shakespeare & Company for multiple decades, she knowingly moves her performers about the smallish stage and thereby injects an element of joie de vivre throughout. Designer Patrick Brennan and Bock provide Jack with a helmet, stethoscope, and clothing footlocker. Louise has a screen behind which she changes outfits and, later, a ludicrously large period-appropriate suitcase which will come in handy. There are a few tables and telephones of the time. While Jack pretty much wears his uniform throughout, Louise shifts from one colorful floral dress to the next. Govane Lohbauer's costume selections are nifty.
The actors face the audience as they speak, but it feels, from the very first moment, as if they are not merely reciting but embodying dialogue. The show benefits from physical performance to augment words and the young principals deliver. Louise's facial expressions as she is about to audition are revelatory. Jack wonders whether he will survive the war and once again see those close to him. Both of them cannot wait for an actual face-to-face meeting.
Every so often, birds chirp or you might hear a tune like "Me and My Gal" or "White Christmas." It's all about transporting those watching to another time and place. In this case, rather than play within a play, it's ambience within ambience. That, too, includes wartime effects like sirens and explosions which sound designer Amy Altadonna expertly adds. The inviting overall setting helps those performing to move theatergoers 80 years backward to another epoch in time.
Gow and Martin are endearing and highly skilled. He has impressive television and film credits in addition to stage appearances with this company and elsewhere. She recently graduated with an MFA from FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training in Sarasota, Florida, and has been featured in a number of plays. Suffice to happily say the future is a very bright one for both. This production is fully dependent on actor timing and the pairing of these actors for their roles benefits from their sweet chemistry–virtually together even as they are literally apart. Allyn Burrows, artistic leader of the Lenox-based troupe, chose this play for the space, which is a unique match for this romantic, affecting play.
Dear Jack, Dear Louise runs through July 30, 2023, at Shakespeare & Company's Roman Garden Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox MA. For tickets and information, please call 413-637-3353 or visit Shakespeare.org.