Off-Broadway Review: “Tiny Beautiful Things” at the Public Theater’s Newman Theater

Off-Broadway Review: “Tiny Beautiful Things” at The Public Theater’s Newman Theater (Through Sunday December 10, 2017)
Based on the Book by Cheryl Strayed and Adapted for the Stage by Nia Vardalos
Directed by Thomas Kail
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Watching “Tiny Beautiful Things” at The Public’s Newman Theater can be described as experiencing the vicissitudes of the human experience through the kaleidoscopic lens of sheer redemptive grace. The broken hearted, the beaten down, the bereft, and the “just broken” send their questions on coping, overcoming, and raging against all forms of the “dying of the light” to “Sugar” (Nia Vardalos) the online newspaper columnist who is the purveyor of this unconditional prevenient grace. Sugar confesses to not being particularly qualified to dispense her advice; however, through sheer ethos and pathos, she says just the right thing at the right time to the right penitent resulting in boundless redemption and release.

Sugar not only identifies with her readers, she also shares from the depth of her experience. She has known rejection, abuse, and lost love. And she knows those who have miscarried, or are overweight, or struggle with sexual orientation or gender identity, or continue to crumble under the weight of guilt and remorse. This character’s ability to empathize and love without condition or judgement eventuates in the audience’s ability to understand more fully the overwhelming need for compassion and catharsis. Ms. Vardalos, who also adapted Cheryl Strayed’s book for the stage, delivers a powerful performance as Sugar, sharing her character’s counsel in the manner of an extended Sermon on the Mount.

Teddy Cañez, Hubert Point-Du Jour, and Natalie Woolams-Torres portray the readers of Sugar’s column, who reach out to her for advice. Their realistic queries bombard Sugar from all sides of the stage. Sometimes Ms. Vardalos responds across the expansive set (designed by Rachel Hauck and exquisitely lighted by Jeff Croiter); at other times she draws near to those asking the questions, sitting close to deliver her answers. The set is Sugar’s home from which she writes and into which (figuratively) she invites her “followers” to receive her “sanctifications.” Under Thomas Kail’s fluid direction, the actors offer authentic performances, giving each character a believable personality and a conflict that is identifiable and genuine. Each member of the audience has either experienced what these characters share with Sugar or they know intimately someone else who has.

Attending a performance of “Tiny Beautiful Things” is like seeing dozens of plays whose characters, conflicts, settings, and themes change with every twist of the kaleidoscope revealing the tiny beautiful things that make us human, and vulnerable, finite, and resourceful – full of grace and truth.