Monday, April 15, 2019

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS / Pasadena Playhouse

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS is a dynamic story of letters... epistles...  from folks in need to an anonymous "Dear Abby" who embraces  the job through revelations from her own life: her strengths and foibles. 

Author Cheryl Strayed,  through the serendipity of the world of authors, inherited an on line advice column.  As an anonymous listener, she was able to respond sincerely to those who needed 'someone to talk to.'  Strayed's book "Tiny Beautiful Things" touched the heart of Nia Vardalos, unforgettable as the creator of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, who adapted  Strayed's book to the stage. Wisely she cast herself as Sugar.

The Land of Phosphors may now have overtaken our lives.  Love affairs, arguments, family reunions and the heavy hand of politics have us on the ropes or the battlements, depending on the depth of our involvement. Until the lights go out, instagrams and tweets  will continue to invade and govern our lives. The trap of anonymity is that we can love or lash out almost immediately, more often than not, misunderstood by whomever may be the recipient of a text or email.  What Tiny Beautiful Things brings us back to is the warmth and civility that we may recall from the days of Dear Abby, when it took extended time and snail mail and a printed newspaper to complete the cycle of reaching out for advice. 
Epistolary in nature, the play brings the letter writers into Sugar's home in an odd osmosis that allows them to sit on her furniture and snack from the fridge. Dialogues ensue:  taken from actual letters that Strayed received as the advice columnist, Sugar. 

Director, Sherri Eden Barber, imagines a magical setting, though overly cluttered,  where we accept that the connection between Sugar and her seekers of advice are presented in conversation. From time to time, Vardalos lapses into dialogues reflecting some element of Sugar's life making a point by responding to a seeker's question.  

Highly theatrical, Strayed's lyrics of care sweep the play along in individual episodes. They touch the heart. Sugar responds in what she reveals in one scene as Unconditional Positive Regard.  She is harnessed to her own truth.

When the writing in an adapted story stays with the 'fist' of the story teller, poetic and honest, it's a tribute to the original author.  Evidently, these stories are true. Thus, Strayed's voice rings true as well.  The great good humor of the writing and the sincerity in her "voice" make this an exercise in reaching out and gathering in and turning around.  A treat!  

 Some of the language is tough and raw. No pussyfooting around for Sugar.  Vardalos brings the nuance and the joy and the pain of Sugar's own life, pastpresentfuture to the Letter Writers ( Teddy Cañez, Natalie Woolams-Torres, Giovanni Adams) as they motor through  a myriad of different characters and questions. Cañez breaks us up with his pushy sincerity and "WTF!s" 

Kudos to Jeff Croiter's lighting that keeps stays with the very talky show as it shifts about the stage.  Rachel Hauck's set is over the top.

by Cheryl Strayed 
Co-Conceived by Marshall Heyman, 
Thomas Kail, and Nia Vardalos  
Adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos
Pasadena Playhouse
39 S El Molino Ave, 
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tuesday, Wednesday, 
Thursday and Friday evenings at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m
Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Tickets and Information

Please note that Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris  will replace Nia Vardalos in the role of Sugar for the following performances: April 13, 2 p.m.; April 20, 2 p.m., April 21, 2 p.m., April 27, 2 p.m., April 28, 2 p.m., May 4, 2 p.m., and May 5, 2 and 7 p.m.

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