By Lucy Komisar
Key West – Ken Ludwig’s delightful two-hander is an affectionate memory of his parents’ epistolary courtship during World War II when his father was a small town doctor working in army hospitals and at the front and his mother was an aspiring actress from Brooklyn. Cody Borah is perfect as the low-key Jacob S. (Jack) Ludwig and Jessica Miano Kruel is excellent as the tough, sometimes cutting New Yorker, Louise Rabiner.
Director Joy Hawkins lets the feelings come through without excessive sentimentality. In fact, there’s a very slow build to the connection between the two.
From 1942 to 45, introduced by their fathers but never meeting till the war was over, they write each other hundreds of letters. They start by introducing themselves. Louise is trying out for part that will get her on a Broadway touring company, Jack is overwhelmed by the wounded sent back to the hospital in Oregon where he is stationed. As time goes by, they express curiosity, warmth, growing affection and love. And sometimes jealousy.
Louise has lots of nervous energy and strong views. She quotes Eleanor Roosevelt that both sides should throw away their weapons of murder.
Jack acknowledges that in war deployment to Europe, he is scared to death.
Louise goes to a small town in Pennsylvania where she visits Jack’s family, dominated by horrific aunts. One of his relatives pushes her out a window, but part of the building breaks her fall.
Jack tries desperately to arrange a few days leave so he can meet Louise, but the authorities are uncooperative. When he finally gets leave, it conflicts with a part she just got that will take her to the Midwest. Of course, she must go.
The set by Gary McDonald is a creative use of the small stage. On her side is a brown wood screen on which clothes hang, a small table, a 40s radio. I loved the 40s music. On his side is a steel table and a couple of trunks. , The costumes and props by Carmen Rodriguez recall the era well.
It seems like an impossible romance. But at last they meet in New York, on VE day. It’s an appealing story with a fine cast. The play was staged at the Arena Stage in Washington in 2019 and is optioned for Broadway.
Red Barn Theatre, 319 Duval (Rear), Key West. (305) 296-0011. Runtime 1:45. Opened Dec 20, 2022, closes Jan 14, 2023.