It was the closest we’ve ever come to global nuclear war.

Those frightening days in October 1962, when President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev seemed willing to risk war over the placement of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Kennedy believed the idea of Cuba having weapons of mass destruction 90 miles away from Florida was an unacceptable threat to our security. Khrushchev thought nukes in Cuba were an appropriate response to the American missile sites in Turkey and Italy that could reach targets in the Soviet Union within minutes.

The crisis 55 years ago has become scarily relevant again with the news from North Korea that the dictatorship is developing weaponized missiles that will be capable of hitting targets in the United States. Local public radio station WSHU is presenting a dramatic reading of a play, “The Letterbox: The Cuban Missile Crisis,” on Oct. 2 that will be followed by a discussion led by veteran National Public Radio journalist Corey Flintoff.

The script by Laura Kutnick was developed two years ago with Weston actor-director James Naughton, who will be narrating and directing the new reading.

“There were lots of ways that situation could have gone south,” Naughton says of the tense negotiations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union — communication that was hampered by the fact there were no direct telephone lines between Moscow and Washington, D.C., in 1962. Much of the play is made up of the letters transmitted back and forth between the two leaders, some of which took as long as 10 hours to reach one or the other.

“It was as a result of this encounter that the red phone came in,” Naughton says of the “hotline” that would connect Kennedy and Khrushchev after the crisis.

Flintoff is the perfect guest for the Westport event because he spent four years covering Russia for NPR. The journalist agrees the play shows Khrushchev in a new light, as a global leader who was as determined to avoid nuclear war as his American counterpart.

“He’s not given credit for what he did during the missile crisis at all,” Flintoff says, adding with the passage of time we can see “(Khrushchev) had very good reasons for doing what he did (in Cuba). There were American missiles in Italy and Turkey.”

Naughton agrees the letters from Khrushchev to Kennedy are revelatory. “He comes across as a considered, intelligent, caring partner to JFK, not the guy we remember banging his shoe at the United Nations ... and he was up against his own guys who wanted to go to war just as JFK was.”

The correspondence also makes it clear JFK was lying in some of his comments about the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco a year earlier. In the letters, the president tried to minimize his involvement in the attempted overthow of Castro planned during the Eisenhower administration, but approved and carried out under Kennedy three months after his January 1961 inauguration.

“The play is not a cold analysis. It’s about two men who had a struggle between their rational parts and their hearts,” Naughton says.

Ironically, the long time lags in the communication between the U.S. and the Soviet Union might have helped to keep a lid on the crisis.

“There is something to be said for stopping and thinking before you respond to someone. I believe that’s true in the way we use social media now,” the actor-director says.

Flintoff agrees that, in some ways, North Korea’s development of nuclear missiles is even more frightening than the events of 1962. He thinks it is possible Russian leader Vladimir Putin has aided North Korea with its weapons technology.

“Somebody helped Kim (Jong-un) with the rapid miniaturization of warheads. I don’t think it was China. Who else has the expertise?” the journalist wonders.

Khrushchev, unlike Putin, was what Flintoff calls “a strategic politician ... a hard-nosed Soviet guy who survived the Revolution and Stalin’s death and came out on top.”

The Soviet leader was guided by a genuine belief in the superiority of communism over capitalism, and the idea that his country’s philosophy would eventually prevail.

“Kim and Putin do not have that (kind of) outlook,” Flintoff says of the way they differ from Khrushchev. “Essentially both of them are criminals protecting criminal enterprises.”

Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court. Monday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m. $20. 203-227-4177, wshu.org

jmeyers@hearstmediact.com;

Twitter: @joesview