×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: Nia Vardalos Plays Cheryl Strayed in ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’

With:
Nia Vardalos, Phillip James Brannon, Alfredo Narciso, Natalie Woolams-Torres.

Feeling confused, stuck, crushed and desperate? (Who isn’t these days?) Then “Tiny Beautiful Things,” the stage adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s collection of empathetic advice columns that she wrote for an on-line literary magazine, might just be your theatrical balm. This well-staged adaptation, starring Nia Vardalos and directed by Thomas Kail (“Hamilton”), will attract the popular writer’s many fans who have passed on her book to friends and relatives, and should also be a sought-after title for other venues looking for a theatrical hug in turbulent times.

Some may find the show little more than a multi-character, well-written Ted Talk, and its rhythms and roundabout anecdotes too predictable. There’s a certain wariness that comes from being in a room too long — even at a mere 80 minutes — with someone who has all the answers.

Strayed, who wrote the advice column under the pseudonym Sugar, is no Ann Landers, who gave practical counsel, snap-out-of-it slaps and directions to experts in the field. Instead Strayed offers insight by way of her own personal experiences, which are just as intimate, painful and harrowing as the letter-writers’ own.

Conceived by Vardalos (who stars as Strayed), Kail and Wall Street Journal columnist Marshall Heyman, the production is a straight-forward presentation of those Q and A’s from the columns. Epistolary exchanges on stage are always a challenge to make theatrically satisfying — wouldn’t books-on-tape work just as well?

But Kail creates a graceful, fluid, low-key dynamic that has those letter-writers — all experiencing pain, grief, anger and shame — inhabiting Sugar’s everyday world, always part of her consciousness, memory and work-a-day life. The stories they tell, the anguish they feel and the questions they ask are quiet cries for help, and Sugar is there for them because she is one of them. Vardalos (writer and star of the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) gives her character an easygoing, grounded quality, an unforced likability and an open, forgiving heart.

Three actors (Phillip James Brannon, Natalie Woolams-Torres and Alfredo Marciso, especially fine) give voice to the various advice-seekers as they drift around Rachel Hauck’s thoroughly lived-in living room and kitchen. (This is a clearly a woman with kids and chaos in her life.)

As Strayed grapples with their seemingly unanswerable questions, she goes about her family activities: packing lunches for the kids, cleaning up, folding laundry. The letter writers make themselves at home, too. This is a person like them, after all, sharing in intimate detail the dark places she has been, too.

Sugar’s approach to their queries about their own problems — sometimes traumatic (parental rejection, a miscarriage, sexual assault, the death of a child), sometimes lighthearted (whether it’s OK to have sex dressed as Santa Claus) — is seen through the prism of her own troubled, complicated life with drugs and sexual abuse.

Some of her autobiography was revealed in brutally honest detail in her 2012 bestseller “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” which later became a film that earned Reese Witherspoon an Oscar nomination. That same literate, painfully honest self-examination is reflected throughout “Tiny Beautiful Things.” In this shared experience, love and forgiveness is all — and sometimes, for many, just that is enough.

Off Broadway Review: Nia Vardalos Plays Cheryl Strayed in 'Tiny Beautiful Things'

The Shiva Theater at the Public Theater, 99 seats, $95 top. Opened, reviewed Dec. 7, 2016. Running time: ONE HOUR, 20 MIN.

Production: A Public Theater production of a play in one act based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos, co-conceived by Marshall Heyman, Thomas Kail and Vardalos.

Creative: Directed by Thomas Kail. Set, Rachel Hauck; costumes, Jennifer Moeller; lighting, Jeff Croiter; sound, Jill BC Du Boff; production stage manager, Diane Divita; stage manager, Jereme Kyle Lewis.

Cast: Nia Vardalos, Phillip James Brannon, Alfredo Narciso, Natalie Woolams-Torres.

More Legit

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    With an HBO documentary that places strong allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson premiering in two weeks, the late singer’s estate announced Thursday that it’s canceling a scheduled Chicago test run of a jukebox musical about him. The estate and its producing partner in the musical, Columbia Live Stage, said that they’re setting their sights on going [...]

  • All About Eve review

    West End Review: Gillian Anderson and Lily James in 'All About Eve'

    To adapt a crass old adage: it’s “All About Eve,” not “All About Steve.” Stripping Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp-witted screenplay about a waning theater star of its period trappings, Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation fine-tunes its feminism for our own sexist age — image-obsessed, anti-aging, the time of Time’s Up. Rather than blaming Lily James’ [...]

  • Adam Shankman

    Listen: Why Adam Shankman Directs Every Movie Like It's a Musical

    Director Adam Shankman’s latest movie, the Taraji P. Henson comedy “What Men Want,” isn’t a musical. But as one of Hollywood’s top director-choreographers of musicals and musical sequences, he approaches even non-musicals with a sense of tempo. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “When I read a script, it processes in my head like a [...]

  • Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella'

    How much can you change “Cinderella” before it is no longer “Cinderella”? In the case of choreography maestro Matthew Bourne — who, it should be said, first unveiled his spin on the classic folk tale some 22 years ago — the music is most certainly “Cinderella” (Prokofiev’s 1945 score, to be exact), but the plot [...]

  • 'Pinter Seven' Review: Martin Freeman Stars

    West End Review: 'Pinter Seven' Starring Martin Freeman

    “Pinter at the Pinter” has been an education — a crash course in Britain’s greatest post-war playwright. Director-producer Jamie Lloyd’s star-studded, six-month sprint through Harold Pinter’s short plays and sketches has been exquisitely curated and consistently revelatory. Not only has Lloyd tuned audiences into the writer’s technique, his unconventional groupings have exposed a load of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content