October 14, 2017

"Tiny Beautiful Things" is Too Small for Me

Sometimes you need to just follow your gut when it comes to deciding whether or not to see a show.  My gut told me Tiny Beautiful Things wouldn't be for me. But I wanted to see this staged adaptation of the personal advice column Sheryl Strayed wrote because the word of mouth about it was so good. Turns out my gut was right.

Not that my gut should keep you away. Strayed has a big following. Her memoir “Wild,” an account of the solo pilgrimage she made from the Mojave Desert in California to the Bridge of the Gods, the natural dam in Washington State, was a bestseller, an Oprah Book Club selection and the basis for the 2014 film in which Reese Witherspoon portrayed the young Strayed.

But Strayed may be best known and most loved for the pep talks she wrote under the pen name Dear Sugar. Her responses to people’s questions about love, loneliness and the meaning of life were poetic and often very personal.

Nia Vardalos (the creator and star of the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) and Thomas Kail (director of the theatrical phenomenon Hamilton) have turned Strayed's affirmations into a 75-minute play that had such a successful workshop production at the Public Theater last winter that it’s now been moved into the Public’s large Newman theater space (click here to read more about the genesis of the production).

There's no narrative. Instead, three actors, eschewing any allegiance to ethnicity or gender, play a variety of letter writers and recite the contents of their queries. Then Vardalos as Strayed shares both the writer's wisdom and the experiences (the death of her beloved mother, an early divorce, a struggle with heroin addiction) through which she earned it.

Kail moves everyone nicely around Rachel Hauck's homey set but I got antsy after the first 15-minutes. That’s partly because I’m not big on the pop psychology that gets peddled in most advice columns. But it’s also because most of the show's dialog sounds like the kind of aphorisms you might find on posters at your local yoga studio. There’s even some deep breathing.

But that’s just me. Most of the folks at the performance my theatergoing buddy Bill and I attended seemed enraptured.  And the show has been extended through Dec. 10. So the decision about whether you should see it is up to you—and your gut.

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