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Love at First Letter

June 25, 2024

Florida Studio Theatre’s (FST) second Summer Mainstage play this year takes audiences back to the 1940’s with Ken Ludwig’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise.

During World War II, letters were the most important form of communication. For soldiers and their families in the United States, writing letters was a way to maintain a connection to loved ones, even if they were a world away. Though mail could take anywhere from one to four weeks to send overseas, deployed men and women depended on this correspondence to maintain morale, hearing from home reminded them what they were fighting for.

In some instances, letter writing was not only a way to maintain relationships, but a way to start new ones. This is the case in Dear Jack, Dear Louise, which tells the story of army captain Jack Ludwig and actress Louise Rabiner, who begin writing letters to each other during the early years of America’s involvement in World War II. Despite living on opposite sides of the country, they develop a sweet and playful relationship over months, and eventually years, of correspondence. Their affection for one another is tested, however, when various circumstances—from touring Broadway musicals to military deployment— prevent them from actually meeting in person.

As you might have guessed from Jack’s last name, this play is inspired by the relationship between Ken Ludwig’s own mother and father: “I wrote Dear Jack, Dear Louise because of my love and admiration for my parents,” said Ludwig. “They were both heroes at a time when heroism was needed... As the play quite accurately describes, they met through letters, courted through letters, and, finally, my father proposed by letter. So a series of letters written during World War II seemed like one truthful way to express their unique and wonderful relationship… I miss them, and Dear Jack, Dear Louise is meant to honor them.”

While the idea for the story was born from the courtship of Ludwigs’ parents, he also took inspiration from classic epistolary novels including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, and Dorothy Sayers’ The Documents in the Case.

“There is a unique quality to traditional letters that can make them rich sources of story and literature,” said Ludwig. “Letters, when well-written, can be beacons into the concerns, joys, tragedies, indeed the very souls of the correspondents, and no other form of expression feels quite the same.”

Ludwig is a prolific playwright with six Broadway productions and eight West End productions of his work under his belt. Over the course of his career, he has written over thirty plays, musicals, and adaptations that have been performed across the world. After last summer’s A Comedy of Tenors was a hit with audiences, FST is thrilled to be bringing another of Ludwig’s pieces to the Florida stage. “Ken Ludwig is emerging as one of the great playwrights of America,” said Producing Artist Director Richard Hopkins. “It’s fascinating to have people get to know each other over letters. Then meeting and still adoring each other.”

Above all, Dear Jack, Dear Louise is a story about finding connection amid uncertainty. Despite being set over eighty years ago, this theme still resonates strongly with modern audiences. “There is a sweet and excruciating anticipation in waiting for a letter to arrive,” said Director Kristin Clippard, who most recently directed Ugly Lies the Bone and A Night in November in FST’s 2024 Stage III Series. “Waiting to hear someone’s answers to your questions. Waiting to hear the latest news. It’s a glorious and nostalgic way to watch a relationship unfold.”

Pictured: Jordan Sobel and Maggie Lou Rader. Photo by John Jones.