BWW Interview: DEAR JACK, DEAR LOUISE's Jake Epstein Recreates Another World at Arena Stage
When one hears actors talk about transporting you to another world, it's fair to assume that they mean another time, another place, or even another universe. But in Arena Stage's Dear Jack, Dear Louise, Jake Epstein is not only talking about another period, but another form of communication, one long since forgotten by society - letters.
"It is funny because with this play, we not only had to recreate another time period, but also another world, one of letters. Because the play is set in World War II this was how people communicated, so it's not just a story of a couple exchanging letters, but a story of time, distance, and not knowing if this would be the last letter you received," says Epstein who is making his Arena Stage debut as Jack.
Written by Ken Ludwig, Dear Jack, Dear Louise, is the story of two strangers who meet during the onset of World War II. Through their exchange of letters the two become more than just pen pals.
"The play was inspired by Ken Ludwig's parents; however, he's been secretive about how much of the play was based on their story as opposed to one that he created," says Epstein. "His dad, like my character, was an army medic, and his mom, like Amelia Pedlow's character, was an aspiring actress. They ended up becoming pen pals but did not meet for years because of the war."
In an era of texts, emails, tweets, and other methods of rapid communication, it is easy to forget the importance of letters especially during wartime. Whereas now deployed soldiers can Facetime their loved ones instantaneously, in the forties, letters could take months and weeks to arrive.
"One of the things that drew me to this project was that for my wife and I, the first five years of our relationship was long distance. We communicated largely over email, and it was the written word that kept our relationship going. In communicating with someone over distance, you understand what someone's emotions are by the written word. So, in many ways, the play is a wink to the original form of online dating," says Epstein.
Creating that world falls solely on Epstein and Pedlow in this two-person, world premiere production. It is a new challenge for Epstein whose previous theatrical outings have included the Broadway blockbuster Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and the infamous Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
"It is thrilling because in a two-person play there are no other characters to fall back on," says Epstein. "Because I just did a solo show, it really helped to train my brain for what goes into a piece like this. Amelia Pedlow is terrific, and for us the play is about these characters, exploring who they were and the focus that comes with that."
In many ways Dear Jack, Dear Louise was a combination of several factors for Epstein. He's long been a fan of Ken Ludwig and the production's director, Jackie Maxwell.
"Oh, I am a huge Jackie Maxwell fan. Being a Canadian native, I've seen many of her productions at the Shaw Festival where she was the artistic director. So, when I did my solo show at the Toronto Fringe Festival, she came to see it and afterward spoke about this project she was doing at Arena Stage," says Epstein.
That project was Dear Jack, Dear Louise. In addition to marking his Arena Stage debut, the production has a deeper meaning for Epstein, one rooted in family and Second World War.
"My mother's parents were holocaust survivors and my mom is a writer. One of the real joys of being an actor is to have the ability to connect with another time and experience. In Dear Jack, Dear Louise, it means recalling an experience that would shape my family and that of so many others," says Epstein.
Dear Jack, Dear Louise runs thru December 29th at Arena Stage - 1101 6th St SW, Washington, DC 20024. For tickets please click here.
Photo: Jake Epstein and Amelia Pedlow. Credit: Tony Powell.