The Public Theater, Newman Theater
425 Lafayette St. by Astor Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 10, $75
Writer and star Nia Vardalos and director Thomas Kail’s adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s beloved Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar has moved from the Public Theater’s tiny Shiva Theater to the Newman, where more tears will flow through December 10. Conceived by Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Company), Kail (Hamilton, Dry Powder), and journalist Marshall Heyman, Tiny Beautiful Things brings to life many of the “Dear Sugar” advice columns Strayed wrote anonymously, answering readers’ questions about life and love by sharing many of her own deeply personal tales, getting to the bottom of “when you are simultaneously happy and sad and angry and grateful and accepting and appalled and every other possible emotion, all smashed together and amplified.” The show takes place in Sugar’s (Vardalos) cramped home, where set designer Rachel Hauck has removed the walls between rooms, as if knocking down psychological barriers. Sugar primarily sits at her kitchen table typing away on her laptop, reading and answering questions posed by a trio of actors, Teddy Cañez, Hubert Point-Du Jour, and Natalie Woolams-Torres, who wander through the rooms almost like ghosts, their funny, strange, and sometimes heart-wrenching stories awakening parts of Sugar’s past, helping her face her own problems.
Fans of Strayed’s (Wild) column and books come to the show with a strong connection to the material and react accordingly, with knowing nods, laughter, and sobs. Those not familiar with Strayed and not particularly keen on advice columns are likely to find the show rather syrupy. Despite fine performances all around and stellar direction by Kail, Tiny Beautiful Things is overly long and repetitive even at a mere eighty-five minutes. Sugar might be wearing a CBGB T-shirt and her laptop bears the sticker “Question Authority,” but there is hardly anything radical or cutting edge about the play. It accomplishes what it set out to do, using inventive staging to delve into the kinds of life issues that many of us face, but how involved you get in it all depends on how cathartic advice columns make you feel.