Dear Audience Agony Aunt,
Do you think my letters are good enough to inspire a play? Just asking, because I’ve just seen a play called Tiny Beautiful Things and it’s made up of a series of letters, a co-opted correspondence between every day folk and an agony aunt called Sugar.
Actually the play is based on a book by Cheryl Strayed which comprised a compilation of correspondence she conducted through her advice column on an internet website (BTW, is that a tautology?). The play is a collation of that correspondence by Nia Vardalos.
For a play that is quite verbose, it starts off real quiet. We see Sugar going about her mundane cleaning up the house, picking up toys, laundry, dirty china, brewing a beverage, checking out her emails. Ordinary stuff, but made interesting, somehow. Made all the more interesting by Simone Romaniuk’s set design, which made the audience feel it was taking a peek inside a real house. Everything including the kitchen sink. With plumbing.
After all that silence, we get an avalanche of verbiage as a cascade of correspondence between advice seekers and Sugar in a panoply of stories spanning existential crisis, physical anomaly and sexual proclivities.
Some of it came over as platitudinous, like being on the set of Oprah, but most of it surprised with compassionate, sane and sage advice which cuts to the heart of the trials and tribulations of human existence.
Not really sure if performance is the right word, but the cast certainly proved engaging storytellers, with Mandy McElhinney portraying Sugar and Stephen Geronimos, Nic Prior and Angela Nica Sullen making up a chorus of correspondents. It was a kind of verisimilitude ventriloquism.
To its credit, all in all, Tiny Beautiful Things helps remind us of the tiny, beautiful things that surround us, even when we are sometimes swamped by big, ugly concepts.
the Kitchen Cynic
PS. Should I get an agent?
Tiny Beautiful Things
original author Cheryl Strayed | adapter & co-conceiver Nia Vardalos | co-conceivers Marshall Heyman & Thomas Kail
Director Lee Lewis
Venue: Upstairs Theatre | Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills NSW
Dates: 1 Feb – 2 Mar 2024
A Queensland Theatre production | presented in association with Trish Wadley Productions