Apparently even the most unconventional relationship is not immune to gauzy romance-novel clichés. In Garret Jon Groenveld’s ungainly new drama Missives, a gay man named Ben (Richard Gallagher) slips a rhapsodic hearts-and-flowers note under the door of a straight female neighbor, Lia (Shamika Cotton). Before long, the two are ardent pen pals with an almost exclusively epistolary relationship, despite their proximity.
Initially, this courtly ritual puts a fresh spin on the Will & Grace template. And as Groenveld expertly finesses their exchanges into dialogue scenes, we see how an unfamiliar medium can convey unlikely or hard-to-face messages. “I was able to tell him stuff no one else would listen to,” Lia tells us, and for a while we see precisely why. But as the play wears on, and both Lia and Ben face romantic trials of their own, the letters morph into windy monologues, most of which meander when they’re not cloyingly cute. The plot wanders, too: After Ben’s relationship with Lia is strained by an intense, doomed affair with Steven (a searing Ryan Tresser), the play veers into an odd extended coda featuring an unhinged stalker (a tart Jay Randall).
Gallagher and Cotton are both appealing performers, but Elysabeth Kleinhans’s nuance-impaired direction hasn’t done them any favors: He’s too precious by half, while she seems callow and curiously blank, even when wracked by tears. PS: In the theater, love is no excuse for banality.