Tiny Beautiful Things
Ann Lemons Pollack – St. Louis Eats and Drinks, July 31, 2021
‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ hits the sweet spot between easy and serious, with notably fine work from all hands.
Advice columns are a secret vice for a lot of people who think they’re a little too close to tabloid material. But who among us can resist the occasional chance to overhear, so to speak, stories out of other people’s lives? That’s what the columns give us, whether it’s questions about heartburn or heartache.
Cheryl Strayed, a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, found herself, in 2010, writing an advice column under the pen name Sugar. Strayed has had quite a life of her own, and used her experiences in answering the letters, so it’s a far – indeed, a far, far – cry from vintage Dear Abby. She published some of the letters in Tiny Beautiful Things.
Max & Louie Productions bring the play, adapted from the book, to the Grandel.
It’s a worthwhile ninety-or-so minutes, fluffy and fun at times and deeply serious at others. Michelle Hand is Sugar. It’s a pleasure to see her back onstage, sinking her teeth into a role that completely covers the aforementioned span. The other three cast members play an assortment of seekers of wisdom and truth, to use Frank Loesser’s great phrase. Greg Johnston, Wendy Renee Greenwood and Abraham Shaw differentiate their characters well. They let us hear the chorus of people pushing Sugar to reveal her private identify, an intermittent but persistent occurrence, as well as voicing many of their letters, some of which truly peel back layers of both writer and respondent. It’s quite a cast of characters they bring to life so competently. Some of the questions are light-hearted. Others, as well as some of Sugar’s answers, are anywhere from potentially uncomfortable to downright disturbing. They’re a reflection of real life and an ability to roll with the punches that’s reassuring, and at times refreshing.
Director Sydnie Grosberg Ronga has assembled a fine team for the show, including Dunsi Dai’s versatile set and Patrick Huber’s lighting to help us keep track of things. In addition, the sound at the Grandel, long a challenge seems to be working out very well, thanks at least in part to Phillip Evans, the sound designer and audio engineer. Nia Vardalos, who wrote and starred in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, adapted the book, and starred in the off-Broadway run of the play.
Tiny Beautiful Things hits the sweet spot between easy and serious, with notably fine work from all hands.