Tiny Beautiful Things
By Rob Levy – Broadway World, August 9, 2021
Words and Language Propel Max & Louie’s Production of Tiny Beautiful Things
Following a long layover from live performances, theater in St. Louis is coming back strong. After a year of isolation, stress, and tension, the joy of seeing human interaction on stage could not be more welcoming. Especially when live audiences are treated to innovate new productions like Max & Louie Productions’ Tiny Beautiful Things.
Adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) from Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar,” this sterling production is the perfect tonic for those craving live theater again.
The material for her book and, subsequently, the play are taken from real letters collected by Strayed who was coaxed into cramming her professional life with a side hustle as an advice columnist operating under the name, “Sugar.”
As a working writer, Strayed quickly embraces the challenge of something new and puts her own spin on the column. Things get weird however when her readers take notice that her conflicting advice is often not what they expected.
As these letter writers connect with Sugar, whom they see as a conduit for solving their problems, Strayed finds herself facing tough questions from folks who need emotional support and affirmation. If that were not enough, she also faces a deluge of inquiries from regular readers who eagerly want to know who she really is.
Acting as a surrogate therapist, she draws from her own personal experiences to dispense advice about a wide range of topics that are broad and challenging. Everything is on the table. From letters about aging, rape, loneliness, love, marriage her readers, eager to pour their hearts out to Sugar.
Heading a terrific ensemble is Michelle Hand as “Sugar. Switching from light humor to dark tragedy at the blink of an eye, Hand successfully serves as the centerpiece for Tiny Beautiful Things. Her emotionally charged performance is supported by a great ensemble that includes Greg Johnston, whose humor goes a long way to lighten the mood when things get heavy. Wendy Renee Greenwood and Abraham Shaw are also terrific, giving performances that skillfully mix the evocative and powerful with the vulnerable and fragile.
Although the cast, lighting, and stage direction are superb, it is words, language, and the power of perception that take center stage in Sydnie Grosberg Ronga’s briskly -paced production. Coming in and just under an hour and a half with no intermission, Tiny Beautiful Things is a daunting work that offsets the pathos of daily life with wit, empathy, and frank candor.
At a time when the world is trying to be unstuck, Tiny Beautiful Things, arrival to St. Louis could not be more prescient. Excellently presented and emotionally compelling, its themes of healing, love, courage, and acceptance remain important local communities struggle to return to normalcy.