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Tiny Beautiful Things

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 


Tiny Beautiful things Play
Hubert Point-Du Jour and Nia Vardalos. (Photo: Joan Marcus) 

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 

Today, when confusion, fear and pessimism intrude daily into our lives, the profound humanity of Tiny Beautiful Things moves beyond the natural catastrophes and possible terrors of tomorrow.  What it offers is permission to be “happy and sad and angry and grateful and accepting and appalled and every other possible emotion, all smashed together and amplified.”  

Tiny Beautiful Things, Nia Vardalos' adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 best-seller, returned to the Public's large Newman Theater for 12 weeks after last year's successful seven-week run in one of the Public's smaller venues.  Directed by Thomas Kail (Hamilton), the current 85-minute production is slightly revised in text, two actors are replacements in the cast of four and the space is larger.  The pros and cons of a non-linear concept or what Strayed called, “therapy in the town square,” are still present, pluses including actress/writer Nia Vardalos' earthy honesty and intelligence and the downside is repetition and low stage drama.

Strayed’s book has a substantial following and Vardalos brought its sensitivity to the stage.  As an actress (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), she brings a warm believability to the advice columnist, called "Dear Sugar".  At the top of the play, a struggling novelist, mother and wife is offered the chance to take over an internet column for no money and no credit.  "I'm in," she agrees, although she has "a mountain of debt" to deal with and a novel to finish.

On Rachel Hauck's roomy lived-in set, Sugar tucks the column into her usual life, making sandwiches for the kids, sorting laundry, picking up toys, making a snack and opening her laptop to work.  She listens, really listens, as the other three characters meander out of the shadows to ask for her take on life and its permutations.  Sugar's responses are considered, first excavating her own life experiences, finding a human connection and delivering answers.

When Hubert Point-du Jour (“Confused”) asks "What is this love thing all about, anyway?" Sugar's answer comes after examining her difficulty dealing with her mother's death.  Natalie Woolams-Torres in "Stuck" is tortured by her miscarriage.  Sugar recalls her job as youth adviser to at-risk school girls.  When faced with a question about addiction, Sugar admits she was once addicted to heroin.

The letter-writers move around, in and out of the shadows defined effectively by lighting designer Jeff Croiter.  Questions are waged about being bullied, shunned, transgender, and forgiving.  They challenge Sugar's qualifications to give advice.  It all adds up to an episodic work, and while moving, there are occasional lapses of tedium and even reaches points of "Is this going nywhere?" but then another visceral communication is well-placed and Kail's direction keeps a steady pace with doses of humor. 

The play reaches a heart-breaking apogee when Teddy Cañez, "Living Dead Dad," reveals that his son was killed by a drunk driver.  Cañez conveys his character's pain and emptiness after the loss.  In his grief, he can only express his agony with a list of events and how he feels.  Vardalos responds with her own list.  The raw emotions are electric.  In the audience, there is the sounds of  sniffles and searching for tissues .  Ths segment includes a rare physical moment in an internet communication when Cañez, touches Vardalos' shoulder. 

The four characters are all effective but the laser centers on Vardalos' nuanced credibility, understanding and heart.  Costumes by Jennifer Moeller are all casual, to wit  Vardalos, the house-bound writer, wears her pajamas, her hair pulled up in a straggling bun.

In the pain and beauty of humanity, as Sugar delivers advice to her letter-writers, she also hears empathy from all sides. "You have a life. Keep the faith. Do the work"  and what we all share is the right to the tiny beautiful things life offers.

 Tiny Beautiful Things
Public Theater's Newman Theater
425 Lafayette Street, NYC
Previews: Sept. 17, 2017. Opening: Oct. 2, 2017. Closing: Dec. 10, 2017
Running time: 85 minutes. No intermission.
Cast: Nia Vardalos as Sugar; Teddy Canez, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Natalie Woolams-Torres. Delance Minefee, Cici Fernandex. (Please note- Nia Vardalos will not perform on the following evenings: Oct. 31, Nov. 1, 2, 3, Nov. 21, 22, and Nov. 24.)
Playwright: Nia Vardalos' adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's book, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.
Co-conceived by Marshall Heyman, Thomas Kail and Nia Vardalos.
Director: Thomas Kail

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

October 2017

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