Jessica Miano Kruel and Cody Borah star in Ken Ludwig’s “Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” now onstage at the Red Barn Theatre in Key West. ROBERTA DEPIERO/Contributed

By Amy Patton

Let’s fall in love again: this time, with Jack and Louise.

The romantic tale of a slow-burning friendship that ripens through correspondence during World War II is now onstage at the Red Barn Theatre, 319 Duval St. 

Written by famed playwright Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor,” “Crazy for You”), “Dear Jack, Dear Louise” opens the 43rd season of the Red Barn. 

The bittersweet — mostly sweet — production is a real-life account of two people separated by distance during one of the country’s most chaotic times. Through an avalanche of handwritten letters during a two-year period, Army physician Jack (played by Cody Borah) begins to fall for aspiring New York City dancer Louise Rabiner (Jessica Miano Kruel). Joy Hawkins directs.

Ludwig’s source for the story was his own family. The clan is rich with lore about the manner in which his parents met and eventually fell in love via what the modern world sometimes sneers at as snail mail. 

“What makes this piece so charming is that Jack and Louise’s affection grew slowly,” said Hawkins. “They really got to know each other in the absence of a physical relationship. They began as friends and that eventually grew to attraction.”  

The narrative arc of “Dear Jack, Dear Louise” is simple: Boy meets girl, kind of. What’s special, though, is how the tension in this two-actor play builds with a frisson of palpable excitement that the audience can feel. While Kruel’s ebullient Louise is expert at cracking one-liners in her letters to Jack — “Insanity doesn’t run through my family, it practically gallops” —  there’s a difficult but necessary balance between their characters’ ever-present terror about the war and the need to hold on to each other with the glue of “gallows humor,” as Jack puts it.

The set is split between Louise’s rooming house off-Broadway in New York and Jack’s military barracks in Oregon. Costume design by Carmen Rodriguez expertly evokes the nostalgia of the era. 

The original staged production grew out of a book penned by Ludwig in 2020. “It’s a very emotional and personal show for him,” said Red Barn Theatre managing director Mimi McDonald last week. The original letters, though, which form the backbone of the story, were reportedly destroyed by Ludwig’s mother before her death. The story lived on in the playwright’s imagination and came to be shared on the contemporary stage.

While modern dating often involves the capricious and fleeting swipe left-or-right matchups on social media, this sentimental production’s most compelling hook is its tale of sweetness and light in the shadow of the darkness of war. 

With pen and paper in hand, we love you, Jack and Louise.