Indiana Repertory Theater, Upperstage

Directed by Janet Allen

I first saw this Pulitzer Prize finalist 15 years ago, read by two actors at podiums. Performed that way, as it often is, A.R. Gurney's chronicle of a friendship through letters makes a good vehicle for television stars who want to be onstage without the fuss of rehearsing. Here, Janet Allen's direction brings more depth and much better acting to the story of two wealthy pen pals who write sporadically from second grade through middle age. Through their letters, we relive childhood's breathless enthusiasm for hate and joy and the adolescent longing for and fear of sex. As Melissa and Andy, Priscilla Lindsay and Patrick Clear circle around a light set of table and chairs, much the same way the would-be lovers circle around having a real relationship. They never make eye contact or touch and when they come close, they break apart quickly. There is longing and there is tension, but most of all, there is pity. We're sorry about Melissa's abusive childhood. Sorry that Andy abandons his first love in Japan. Sorry that Andy and Melissa are better at paper intimacy than the real stuff. By the end, I was tired of being sorry and of Gurney's wistful stroll down the path not taken. The play lends a discomforting air of romantic tragedy to characters that get out of life exactly what they put into it, which isn't much.

635-5252, www.irtlive.com. Through January 17.

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