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Off Broadway

Tiny Beautiful Things: Big Powerful Waves

Tiny Beautiful Things: Big Powerful Waves
Nia Vardalos

Nia Vardalos

As I ponder how to write about this moving emotional piece of theatre, Tiny Beautiful Things, I find myself tempted as I’m sure others will, of writing it in the same letter format as the book, and as adapted here by Nia Vardalos and directed by Thomas Kail at the Public Theater. I’m going to resist that temptation. As fun as it sounds. Instead, I’m going to write as Cheryl Strayed herself might. From a personal place and perspective, which I always hope is as connecting as this theatrical piece is.

Phillip James Brannon, Nia Vardalos

Phillip James Brannon and Nia Vardalos (Joan Marcus)

The book, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, one that I have not read (nor, if I’m being honest, ever heard of), is a collection of letters compiled from Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” advice column, which she wrote anonymously for the The Rumpus online literary magazine. Strayed’s writing seems to be coming from a very personal and intimate perspective. She tries to tell a story from a similar emotional space inside and in her own mysterious way, circles back to a profound connection to the original plea for guidance. To experience Strayed and in turn Vardalos’s work here reminds me of the desirous place when I’m drawn to watch scenes from movies or TV that I know can trigger tears instantly. I don’t need to watch all of Terms of Endearment anymore to find myself in tears. That moment when Shirley MacLaine comes back to the motel after being with her terminal ill daughter to find Jack Nicholson waiting on the steps for her. Tears. Instantly. The preamble to get there isn’t needed anymore. But the ‘pleasure’ of being pulled into that space and experiencing that emotion is so satisfying. This show packs the same surprisingly spontaneous moments of emotional connectivity and if that simple story about Terms of Endearment (or whatever your equivalent is) resonated at all with you, than you will find yourself drawn in to Tiny Beautiful Things as much as I was. In waves.

Phillip James Brannon, Nia Vardalos

Nia Vardalos, Phillip James Brannon (Joan Marcus)

Vardalos has stayed pretty close to the source material in the staging and adaptation. This group of gifted actors (Phillip James Brannon, Alfredo Narciso, Natalie Woolams-Torres), portraying all sorts of characters reaching out for advice from ‘Sugar’, pulls us skillfully and honestly into their stories and predicaments. It’s almost shocking how we can be so thoroughly engaged so quickly into these personal pleas for help and guidance. And then there is Vardalos, responding with such a look of empathy and questioning, that we instantly join her in her complete desire to be of use. There is a powerful real moment of silence before she speaks, when so much transpires across her face as she searches her conscience for a real thing to say in response. Not so much the right thing nor the best thing, but the most true and pure thing that she can grab from her personal experience. As a psychotherapist in the real world, I completely resonated with that quagmire that we often find ourselves, and I have to give it to Strayed that she does find the most beautiful poetic connections within herself to help another. It feels utterly genuine and sometimes profound.

It’s a beautiful piece of work Vardalos has created, not tiny at all, although as a ‘play’, I struggled with the forward drive and momentum. Overall, there are many moments that have a strong deep emotionality and an intensity that can’t be denied. This show hits us like waves in the ocean, huge intense moments of surprising power, followed by a lull as we wait for the next.

The lulls though are distracting, and I couldn’t help myself thinking and waiting for the next, wondering if this next question/response was going to be as intoxicating as the last, or was it going to be the final exchange. I questioned, in the quiet lulls, whether the cycles were starting to become tedious or repetitive but then the next inquiry begins, and their story grabs hold. I would find myself thoroughly invested once 90-1again. I also kept wondering, was this one going to be the story that prompts Sugar to incorporate the title of the show into her response? I knew that this would signal the end, and I was right. And even though I wasn’t surprised by this theatrical construct, I wouldn’t say I was disappointed either. It felt right, and honorable. The ending does miraculously wrap this up with a lovely bow. Is it too neat and perfect in the end? Maybe, but I didn’t mind. Vardolas had me under her spell.

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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