Tiny Beautiful Things, the Pandora’s box of heartbreaking tales of loss, grief and finding a positive way to deal with life’s blows, is a subtle jolt. Based on Cheryl Strayed’s life, this piece was originally published as a collection of columns from the online magazine “The Rumpus.” Writing as “Dear Sugar,” Ms. Strayed was like a modern Ann Landers who used pieces of her life to answer her readers, despite its flaws. Adapted by Nia Vardalos, Marshall Heyman and Thomas Kail (Hamilton), who also directs, Tiny Beautiful Things seems to be the realistic answer for dealing with what is wrong with this world and taking charge of your own destiny. If you have suffered some kind of loss you will be moved. Some of the constant sounds in the theatre are sniffling, blowing of noses, and sighs of anguish.
The evening starts off when a mother of two (Nia Vardalos) is approached to write an online advice column for no money. Having been a fan of the column, this professional writer cannot say no. Suddenly, she finds herself invaded by the lost, forlorn, and the TWTF skeptics. As their worries pour out like volumes of trivial nonsense, Sugar cannot relate, until a man (Hubert Point-Du Jour) is confused about what love is and when to say it. For Sugar, this subject brings up memories of her dying mother and the emotions and feelings she has. In the end, she offers “Be brave enough to break your own heart.”
Sugar’s rule is to “trust and embrace yourself.” Using personal anecdotes, her responses are self-reflecting, which ends up with her empathizing with understanding and sympathizing. She becomes her readers and they her as they inhabit her space, lounging on her furniture and drinking her vodka. In the meantime, Sugar goes about her life cleaning up and packing up lunch boxes. Sugar’s life and that of her readers is synonyms. She answers their questions dealing with miscarriages, rape (Natalie Woolams-Torres), rejection by parents, midlife crises, to the guilt of not wanting to be married. They are the choruses of life. Her readers beg to know who she is, but it isn’t until a long and devastating letter from a father (Teddy Cañez) who has lost his son that Sugar reveals who she is. The fact is, Sugar is us, besides being Cheryl Strayed.
Ms. Vardalos is luminous, keeping it warm and fuzzy. Teddy Cañez, Hubert Point-Du Jour, and Natalie Woolams-Torres portray the numerous writers. These three embody the different aspects of who we are in clear, sharp, and complete performances. I especially love Cañez’s delivery as the father who has lost his son. His performance is powerful, as he infects the audience with his grief.
Kail’s direction is simple, allowing the words to work their magic. Rachel Hauck’s set is the perfect embodiment of how our lives are cluttered, lived in, and layered.
There are some who will not enjoy this show, as it is about getting in touch with your emotions and realizing you too can heal. We all have to reach out and grab hold of our lives and realize this too shall pass. Tiny Beautiful Things is the art of hope and we can all use some of that.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St. until December 10th.