Acting out the roles of a couple in love in Virginia Repertory Theatre’s production of Dear Jack, Dear Louise won’t be a stretch for husband and wife acting duo Lydia Hundley and Neal Gallini-Burdick.
The play, by Ken Ludwig, opening at Hanover Tavern on March 18, tells the heartwarming story of Ludwig’s own parents’ courtship during World War II. U.S. Army Captain Jack Ludwig, a military doctor stationed in Oregon, begins writing to Louise Rabiner, an aspiring actress and dancer in New York City, hoping to meet her someday if the war will allow. But as the war continues, it threatens to end their relationship before it even starts.
“Lydia and I are married and that makes it a lot easier to have a deep understanding with each other on stage. If we had just met on the first rehearsal as often happens in productions, we wouldn’t have been able to read each other as well. However, in my opinion, it makes the start of the show a little harder. As Jack and Louise send their first letters to each other, the uncertainty and awkwardness that they feel aren’t things that we have felt for several years,” Gallini-Burdick says.
Hundley is enjoying going back to the beginning stages of a relationship, getting to learn things about the person, meeting the family. “Discovering and connecting these moments within our own relationship really helped us figure out who these people are,” Hundley says.
Gallini-Burdick was interested in the role of Jack for a variety of reasons, including the fact that Jack and Louise find themselves in their twenties during World War II.
“It’s possibly the single worst time in history to be a young man or woman,” he says. “One of the reasons this play is so interesting to me is that we find ourselves now in another very interesting point in history, with the pandemic and now the escalation of violence in the Ukraine. There are many parallels between then and now, but what the play shows is that life goes on. We still want to find love and happiness whatever is happening around us.”
Hundley appreciates the fact that the play is based on real people. “Getting to read interviews and stories about these two people and their love for each other was great, and it really helped us understand who they were. Louise is an actress living in New York, pursuing her dreams,” Hundley says. “She’s 19 and just starting out. I was 19 not too long ago, and also dreamed of being on Broadway, so that was another aspect that drew me in.”
Hundley and Gallini-Burdick’s own love story began in college at the University of Mary Washington. Both were involved in theater. They were first cast together as the Bad Idea Bears in Avenue Q.
“We didn’t start dating until a year after that. We then kept getting cast in roles opposite each other,” Hundley says. “I guess people could see our connection. We got married last year, May 29, 2021.”
The couple has appeared in five shows together prior to their current production. They were cast as a married couple in three of the shows.
“This is the first true romance we have done together,” Hundley says. “It’s exciting to finally be in love on stage. Our last time on stage together was in God of Carnage, and we weren’t very kind to each other in that play.”
Both see strength in each other and each other’s acting.
“I think Lydia is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. In their art and in their life, they never hold back,” Gallini-Burdick says.
“Neal is the strong and silent type, but when he gets comfortable with someone he becomes such a comedian,” Hundley says. “His humor always brightens my mood when I need it. I always know that he’s got my back, along with a sarcastic remark.”
Both see similarities and differences in themselves and the characters they portray in the production.
“Jack and I are both fairly shy and unobtrusive in our day to day lives. We also both have strong moral objections to most kinds of violent conflict,” Gallini-Burdick says. “I think the biggest difference I have with my character is that I’m more skeptical about strong feelings of patriotism than he is. I think that may have a lot to do with our generations and the times in which we live, however.”
“Louise is very bubbly and personable, and I like to think I have those same qualities,” Hundley says. “She’s very expressive and emotional, and I’m the same way. We’re different in the way we approach social situations, and also, she’s a dancer. I am very much not. But I’ve had fun exploring that side of me.”
They feel that the Hanover Tavern stage is a good fit for the show.
“The staging is very intimate. A lot of the letters are stories that we get to share with the audience, it’s the perfect space to tell a story as romantic as this,” Hundley says, adding that the message they would like to see the audience takeaway from the show is that “love can thrive even in the darkest of situations.”
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Virginia Repertory Theater’s production of Dear Jack, Dear Louise plays Hanover Tavern March 18 through April 17. For showtimes and tickets, go here.
To provide the highest level of safety, all patrons are required to show proof of vaccination, OR proof that they have received a negative COVID test by a professional technician within 48 hours of the performance date/time. Masks, covering the face and nose, are also required for all patrons while inside the venue.