Love Letters
★★★ ½
Bare Theatre @ Sonorous Road Productions, Raleigh
Through Feb. 28

Love Letters
, A.R. Gurney’s unconventional epistolary drama from 1989, usually features two actors seated side by side on an otherwise empty stage, traversing the lifelong friendship of central characters Melissa and Andy through five decades of their correspondence. As the text proceeds from the illicit classroom notes and birthday cards of childhood to the deeper disclosures of high school, college, and adulthood, the challenge to an actor’s range is obvious.

But in this Bare Theatre production of Love Letters, director Rebecca Blum declined that test in the interest of diversifying the cast. Instead, with the playwright’s permission, she selected three pairs of performers—adorable (but not always audible) child actors Audrey Jones and Damien Tomczyk, adult actors Claire Koenig and Justin Brent Johnson, and Amanda Scherle and Simon Kaplan—to play the two characters in various stages of their lives. During transitions, the older versions of the characters seem to look in and back on their younger selves—adolescents who, at times, seem unnerved by their own futures.

There is more than a note of poignancy as these alienated children of privilege send signals to each other during lengthening periods of absence. “Why do they keep pushing us together and pulling us apart?” wonders Koenig’s brash, impatient teenage Melissa, as her life trajectory steadily veers off from Andy’s. It continues to do so, first through same-sex schools and summer camps and then through diverging career paths and ambitions.

Johnson conveys the pomposity and sudden vulnerability of Andy through prep school, college, and his service in the Navy. Scherle and Kaplan effectively excavate the aches and carefully concealed regrets of aging, far too distant friends. Gurney’s conclusion, and Blum’s cast, left some audience members stunned as they struggled to compose themselves at the end of Sunday’s matinee. It’s an appropriate benediction when a show inspires you to rush home through the chilled, fading light, start a good fire, pour a warm drink, and pick up a pen or a phone.