Aired on KSDS-FM on 3/1/19
RUN DATES: 2/9/19 – 3/17/19
VENUE: The Old Globe
It’s always been fascinating to me that people pour out their hearts and souls to a complete stranger in an advice column. I guess anonymity is empowering.
In 2010, when best-selling author Cheryl Strayed was asked to take over an advice column called “Dear Sugar,” in The Rumpus, an online literary magazine, her response was an unequivocal ‘No.’ In addition to the difficulty of the task, there would be no byline and no pay.
But she reconsidered, and over two years, the column became so popular that she turned it into a best-selling book. Then, it was adapted as a play, and Strayed now co-hosts the New York Times podcast, “Dear Sugar Radio.”
What she did was gutsy and deeply personal. Instead of giving superficial responses to agonized questions, she relates them to her own life, using her wide array of harrowing experiences – from early sexual abuse to heroin use – to help her writers dig deep, re-assess and heal. Her “radical sincerity” turned out to be cathartic and healing for her, too.
“We’ve created something together,” she tells her readers toward the end of “Tiny Beautiful Things,” having its West Coast premiere at The Old Globe. “I’m Sugar, and so are all of you.”
Strayed’s special sauce is empathy, and her most frequent suggestions concern forgiveness and gratitude, appreciating the little things in life, and moving on. If you happen to have experienced the same challenges as her correspondents — addiction, gender transition, loss of a parent, mate or child — the 80-minute play is likely to hotfoot it to your heart.
But though this adaptation, by theater/film heavy-hitters Nia Vardalos, Thomas Kail and Marshall Heyman, shifts deftly from tragic to poignant to comic moments, this is a tricky structure to maintain, and a little goes a long way.
Director James Vasquez keeps up a lively pace, and creates movement for the letter-writers on the outskirts of Strayed’s cozy home, where she flops around in baggy sweats. The cast of four, headed by Opal Alladin’s Sugar, is first-rate.
Anyone can find words of wisdom in Sugar’s insights. Just remember, she says, no matter what you’ve experienced, you still have the right to tiny beautiful things.
©2019 PAT LAUNER