BWW Review: TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS at Pasadena Playhouse
In my mind Tiny Beautiful Things is a perfect radio play because of its content. Letters to online journalist Sugar (Nia Vardalos) and her responses make us focus intensely. Vardalos has adapted the novel by Cheryl Strayed into a stage play in which she, in her living space, approaches Letter Writer # 1 (Teddy Canez), # 2 (Natalie Woolams-Torres) and # 3 (Giovanni Adams) and addresses each, as if they were in direct conversation. At times the concept works well; at other times, it becomes speechy and rambling. Currently onstage at The Pasadena Playhouse through May 5, the play will appeal most to those who visit online chat rooms looking for advice on how to deal with a myriad of problems.
The four characters present some pretty raw and controversial issues like parental sexual abuse, how to survive after losing a child, how to deal with parents who do not understand what it means to be gay, and stealing. Sugar refuses to give her real name and keeps her answers honest and helpful, like a therapist. What would she do if she were in their shoes? She relates parental issues to her own.
She had a grandfather who made her jerk him off, when she was a little girl.
This action totally baffled her and caused her to dislike the man. Her father neglected both her and her mother. After her mother died, she tried to reconnect with him. but insisted that they must talk, to overcome their differences. In a way, she is helping the letter writers as much as they are assisting her in trying to find the reason to go on. So the message is clear from the top. By bringing people into close contact and communicating openly with brave intentions, those people will hopefully find more control in regulating their choices.
The one element that really impresses me is the staging by director Barber who keeps a smooth and solid flow of letters, both questions and answers, back and forth between the four. The acting is terrific from everyone. Canez is especially engrossing as "Living Dead Dad" who cannot express how meaningless his life has become without his son who died in an automobile accident. He talks making lists, and Sugar answers matching an equal number of lists. It is a really heartfelt segment for both Canez and Vardalos. Vardalos also shines in summing up her reasons to utilize traditional views such as generosity, forgiveness and...love, but not to be afraid to reach out and choose options that make you happiest.
As I mentioned earlier, the speeches are somewhat long, but listen carefully to what is spoken and also what lies underneath.
We often ignore tiny beautiful things that happen in our lives and need to accept them and reconsider them as fruitful accomplishments.