Review by BERNIE BELLAN When I learned that the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre was going to be producing its first production in front of a live audience since February 2020, I wondered how it might come off, given that performing under a canopy on a field isn’t quite the same as say, putting on a show at Rainbow Stage.
But, to say that WJT Artistic Director Ari Weinbeg, along with his production crew, has pulled off a major success, would be an understatement. The choice of “Dear Jack Dear Louise” turned out to be a perfect one given the setting of the play. Sitting under a canopy while hearing one of the actors describe, at times, what it’s like having to treat wounded soldiers in field hospitals set up in tents during World War II could not have been more evocative.
But, lest you think this play is about the war, let me assure you that, while the war plays a pivotal role in the storyline, this is really a story about how two individuals developed a serious romance through letter writing – a lost art if ever there was one.
The two characters in the play, Jack Ludwig and Louise Rabiner, are based on the actual parents of the playwright, Ken Ludwig, who might be best known as having written the book for the musical “Crazy for You”.
As I noted in my August 18 interview with Ari Weinberg, “This is the story of Ludwig’s parents. All four of his grandparents met at a barbeque during the Second World War. One set had a single son, the other had a single daughter. The son was off being a doctor in the army and the daughter was off aspiring to be in musicals in New York City.
“So the grandparents thought: ‘We should get them to start writing to each other. So Jack picked up a pen and wrote to Louise and she responded, and they kept in touch throughout the war. They were supposed to meet, but various obstacles kept popping up, so they wrote letters to each other for four years and met at the end of the war – and got married, and had Ken and his brother.
“When they both passed away, he inherited the letters that they had written to each other, and he thought: ‘There’s a play here’, so it’s sort of an homage to his parents.”
But “Dear Jack Dear Louise” is more than just two actors reading letters. While their thoughts are certainly on display through excerpts from their letters – and there must have been hundreds of them over what turned out to be an almost four-year period during which Jack and Louise never actually met in person, Ludwig adds just the right amount of additional dialogue to complement the often snappy excerpts from the letters.
The play moves so quickly that it’s hard to imagine that there must have been long gaps in between the letters going back and forth. To listen to the clever interplay between the characters, you’d think that they’re responding and reading each other’s letters within minutes of just having received them.
While Jack Ludwig, as played by Justin Stadnyk, is a serious and earnest young doctor who’s been drafted into what turns out to be a very long period of service in the U.S. army, Louise Rabiner, as played by Becky Frohlinger, is a whimsical ball of constant movement who paces the stage with the kind of energy that she must have channeled into her career as a dancer and aspiring Broadway performer.
And, although the letters were written in the 1940s, audience members can well relate to the physical frustrations that Jack and Louise harbour as, despite many aborted plans to meet one another, for one reason or another, their plans are always dashed.
In a continuing joke that’s repeated quite often, Louise keeps referring to Jack’s commanding officer, a Colonel Ramsay, with different names, all of them pejoratives beginning with the word “Ram”. Louise is so clever in her writing and Jack is so dedicated to his role as an army doctor that it’s quite easy to see how these two fell for each other.
While both Jack and Louise are Jewish – and their Jewish backgrounds do enter into the storyline, this is a play that would have universal appeal. Still, I’m sure non-Jewish audience goers will get as much of a kick about Jack warning Louise about his 11 different aunts and how each of them will find different reasons to belittle Louise in ways with which anyone who’s grown up in a Jewish home can well identify. For anyone who’s seen a Neil Simon play or movie, the dialogue will resonate wonderfully.
(And, I’m not going to give away anything about Jack’s sister, Betty. When you hear what she does to Louise at one point you’re going to plotz.)
I can’t say enough about how wonderful Justin and Becky are in their roles. And, despite the imperfect conditions in which they had to perform, what with being under a canopy outdoors, the sound quality was excellent.
One piece of advice if you’re planning to attend though – and tickets are going rapidly, I’d advise: You might want to bring a cushion to sit on. Those foldable chairs are not all that forgiving to one’s backside.
“Dear Jack Dear Louise” is on until August 5. Tickets available at WJT.ca or by calling 204-477-7478.
Congregation Etz Chayim says good bye to 123 Matheson Ave.
By BERNIE BELLAN After 71 years of serving as the home for first the Rosh Pina Synagogue, then for the past 21 years as the home for what was the merger of three different congregations – Rosh Pina’s, along with the Bnay Abraham and Beth Israel, the Etz Chayim Congregation held its final service on Wednesday, November 29.
You can read the story by CJN writer John Longhurst elsewhere on this site (https://jewishpostandnews.ca/rss/congregation-etz-chayim-in-winnipeg-says-a-bittersweet-farewell-to-their-old-building-as-they-prepare-to-move/) along with our earlier story about the sale of the building to an Eritrean Church (https://jewishpostandnews.ca/faqs/rokmicronews-fp-1/former-congregation-etz-chayim-synagogue-building-to-become-eritrean-orthodox-church/), but here are some pictures from the final service.
(Photos courtesy of Keith Levit)
Israel report by former Winnipegger Bruce Brown
By BRUCE BROWN (posted Nov. 28/23) Was driving home from work the other day. Pre-ceasefire. Left the office early to reduce driving time in the evening hours. Hamas likes their 6PM missile barrage and I’m honing my missile-avoidance routine.
Was listening to talk-radio… but kind of had enough of the news. Too much war talk and its getting a bit overwhelming. So switched to Spotify and up popped Supertramp – the Logical Song. For sure how ‘wonderful, beautiful, magical’ life once felt. Before Oct 7th. Before Hamas.
Then, as if on cue. I gaze towards the sky. And saw missiles flying overhead. At first it didn’t really click. And then. Yikes! I quickly switched back to the news. Where, in a very calming voice, they were announcing areas under missile attack. Which is another reason to listen to the radio while driving during war – real-time information. Lesson learned.
Suddenly my smartphone’s flashlight started flashing. Which was pretty darn cool! And there I was, on Star Trek. Standing on the bridge. Even recalled the vessel number – NCC-1701. There I was with Captain Kirk. No! I was Captain Kirk. Dr. McCoy by my side. Sulu and Chekov at the controls. The Klingons were attacking. And Mr. Spock -standing to the side- was calmy advising the attack coordinates. No Wait! That was the radio announcer. Seriously. This all took place within a split second in my over-active imagination.
The flashing continued. Then I realized my cellphone was communicating with me. Warning of danger. I have the Home Front Command application which sounds an amazingly loud alarm during a missile attack in my area. But changing between the radio and Spotify prevented the siren from going off. So instead, the phone activated my flashlight. Sending out an S.O.S. Now how neat is that! In a geeky sort of way. Like for someone who imagines himself on Star Trek during a real-life missile attack.
Then. Reality set in. There were Home Front Command instructions to follow. Momentary-panic set in. Where was my wife. To tell me what to do. Like she always does…but that’s another story. This time I wanted her there, instructing me.
All these thoughts racing through my mind in milliseconds. As I calmly slowed the car and veered to the shoulder. Like other cars around me. I put on the blinkers. More flashing lights but the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise now a distant thought. Looking both ways I left the car and hopped over the road- barrier. Moving away from the car. Although probably not far enough. Because there was a steep decline just below. It was getting dark and, suffering from poor night vision, I didn’t want to trip and hurt myself. I heard my son laughing at me. “Nerd!” he called out. But that was just my imagination.
I should have laid flat. Prostrating myself for maximum protection. But it rained earlier that day, the ground was wet and I didn’t want to get muddy. ‘”Nerd!” This time it was my daughter in my mind’s eye. “Okay,” I said to no one in particular. “I’ll squat.” Good enough…but not really.
The family in the car ahead were huddling together but too close to their vehicle. I shouted for them to move further away. But they didn’t react. Probably didn’t understand me, especially given my still heavily accented Canadian Hebrew. This time I heard both my kids. Teasing me – thirty years and still talk like an immigrant! “Hey, they just don’t hear me.” I said to the darkness. Otherwise it was very moving seeing the father crouching down on top of his brood, in a protective sort of way. “Isn’t that touching.” I said to my wife. “For sure.” She said somewhat sarcastically in the back of my mind, “I know you’d do the same.”
Then it was over. The sky went quiet. People returned to their cars. The nestled family broke apart and entered theirs. We should have stayed in place several more minutes. Ten minutes is the recommended time. But it was dark. Getting late. Also a bit cold. I just wanted to get home. Back to the real chiding of my kids and to my wife… somehow longing for her ordering me about.
A few minutes later my wife called. Making sure I was safe. And then routine set in. “Don’t forget to pick up some milk and bread from the corner store.” She instructed me.
Um Israel Chai
Bruce Brown. A Canadian. And an Israeli. Bruce made Aliyah…a long time ago. He works in Israel’s hi-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night. Bruce is the winner of the 2019 American Jewish Press Association Simon Rockower Award for excellence in writing. And wrote the 1998 satire, An Israeli is…. Bruce’s reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal. With lots of biting, contrarian, sardonic and irreverent insight.
Jewish community holds solidarity rally November 25
The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg held a rally in support of Israel on Saturday evening, November 25.
A number of speakers addressed the crowd of 800, including Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia Congregation; Members of Parliament Ben Carr & Marty Morantz; Yolanda Papini-Pollock of Winnipeg Friends of Israel; Paula McPherson, former Brock Corydon teacher; and Gustavo Zentner, President of the Jewish Federation.
Click here to watch Ben Carr’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crfREGNRKfg
Click here to watch a video of Marty Morantz’s remarks: https://studio.youtube.com/video/zHzC-iaqivg/ed
Click here to watch a video of Gustavo Zentner’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3M_cCYuLgs