Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's review of A Small Fire
The Arden Theatre Company brings Tiny Beautiful Thingsto Philadelphia with a production so powerful, devastating and redemptive, it will leave you breathless. Based on Cheryl Strayed's best selling book, Tiny Beautiful Things collects the highlights of her much beloved advice column and brings them to life with staggering clarity. Under Maura Krause's dynamic direction the exceptional cast breath es vibrant life into the text of Strayed's columns . The requests and responses open a window into the experiences that alter people's lives and the hard-earned wisdom that helps them survive the shift. It is a punch to the gut and a tonic for the soul.
Nia Vardalos, who adapted Strayed's book for the stage, wisely avoids the temptation to set up a flimsy premise. The columnist is not nostalgically cleaning out her desk or reminiscing about her favorite letters. In fact, once the play gets started, there is no dialogue beyond the text of the letters seeking advice and the published responses. The effect is initially a little disorienting; viewers looking for a traditional plot may feel frustrated, but the technique is remarkably effective. By stripping away everything but the letters and responses Vardalos allows the audience to focus on the humanity of the individuals asking for advice and the power behind Strayed's earnest responses.
Emilie Krause shines in the role of the advice columnist known to her readers only as Sugar. Fearlessly vulnerable and crackling with positive energy, Krause's performance captivates from start to finish. Her three co-stars each play a bevy of the column's loyal readers. Bailey Roper plays frustrated teenagers and adult children with apt and understated intensity. Joliet Harris brings an authenticity to her characters that is by turns exhilaratingly joyful and quietly excruciating. Akeem Davis displays keen comic timing throughout, but his monologue toward the end of the show is simply shattering.
Chris Haig's clever set design blurs the distinction between inside and out, leaving the actors plenty of space to work and contributing to the play's slightly surreal flow. The costumes designed by Rebecca Kanach are understated, but they hit just the right notes. Every element of Krause's production keeps focus on the people telling their stories. Those stories, and the cast's uncanny ability to make them come to life, are what make Tiny Beautiful Things such an incredible experience.
Tiny Beautiful Things runs through December 8, 2019, on the Arden Theatre Company's Arcadia stage, 40 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information call 215-922-1122 or visit Ardentheatre.org.