By E.M. Fredric
Pasadena, CA (The Hollywood Times) 4/20/2019 – Nia Vardalos reprises her role as “Sugar” in Tiny Beautiful Things at the Pasadena Playhouse which is based on the New York Times Bestseller by Cheryl Strayed (writer of Wild). The project was conceived by Vardalos in conjunction with Thomas Kail and Marshall Hayman. One can see why it was a popular column or is a good read but when transferring words on the page to the stage this production is one long, self-indulgent monotone that hangs thickly in the air. It was difficult to hear the actors – who didn’t project loudly enough over the cacophony of coughing and hacking audience members – throughout the 80 minutes of hit-miss moments that would have been more compelling as an evening with Cheryl Strayed and Nia Vardalos.
The piece – as it’s written – doesn’t transcend to the stage. It’s an arduous evening to sit through this thinly veiled one-woman show where the supporting actors are used as a Greek chorus device – that seems forced and ineffective. Actors – Teddy Cañez (a stand-out), Natalie Woolams-Torres and Giovanni Adams – do their best as the gallery of characters writing in to Dear Sugar asking for help about life – as we all know it. Yet, the recurring irritating factor remains that every problem or issue is more about “Sugar” than those who ask for help.
Author Cheryl Strayed also wrote Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail that was adapted to film starring Reese Witherspoon. If you saw the movie most of what you’ll hear in this production is, again, about Cheryl Strayed’s life after addiction, loss of her mother, marriage and other life’s hurdles.
The synopsis given: “Tiny Beautiful Things is about Sugar, an anonymous online advice columnist to whom thousands of people have turned for words of wisdom, honesty and hope. At first unsure of herself, Sugar finds a way to weave her own life experiences together with the deep yearning and real problems of her readers, creating a beloved column about the monstrous beauty, endless dark and glimmering light at the heart of being human.”
It sounded something like this:
My spouse died. I don’t know what to do.
I had an affair so that I could finally divorce my first husband and my mother died but her last word to me was love. My second husband told me I didn’t need to talk about sticking a needle in my arm and be broken so I knew that he was the one for me. I learned I could get through anything and get paid to talk about it! So, chin-up depressed – I get it! So, grieve, grieve, grieve! I survived my mom’s death and my dad wasn’t loving but hey I didn’t jump off a bridge – I went hiking!
If you need another epic-dose of self-love new-age wisdom that has been done over and over – or love the reboots Hollywood serves on an overpriced platter then this theatrical experience will move you.
The play has a few good scenes but with the star power and bucks behind this vanity production, the poorly lit material is wasted on the beautifully designed set by scenic designer, Rachel Hauck.
Tiny Beautiful Things runs April 10, 2019 – May 5, 2019.
Tickets can be purchased online at PasadenaPlayhouse.org, by phone at 626-356-7529, and in person at the Pasadena Playhouse Box Office, 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101.
*Please note that Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris will replace Nia Vardalos in the role of Sugar for the following performances: April 20, 2 p.m., April 21, 2 p.m., April 27, 2 p.m., April 28, 2 p.m., May 4, 2 p.m., and May 5, 2 and 7 p.m.