NEW YORK—A writer has recently been asked to take on the unpaid post of dispensing personal advice to the lovelorn, the lonely, and the bereft of all types.
Although the woman behind “Dear Sugar” is busy working on a book and taking care of her two children, when a colleague approaches her to take on this assignment, she says yes.
Actress and writer Nia Vardalos adapted the play from the memoir by “Wild” author Cheryl Strayed about her experiences as an advice columnist. Vardalos plays Sugar as a warm, understanding, and savvy woman. And she sure needs to be.
Sugar receives letters from seekers of comfort, portrayed by Teddy Cañez, Hubert Point-Du Jour, and Natalie Woolams-Torres, which she answers from her apartment (a comfortable, homey set by Rachel Hauck).
Some problems presented concern marriage. Should one stay in a marriage—or leave? Leave just because one wants to, even if the mate is terrific in every way?
Others deal with family, and Sugar shares who own experiences. In one touching segment, she tells the story of when she and her mother discovered a toddler-sized red velvet dress at a yard sale. “But I’m never going to marry,” Sugar proclaimed. “We’ll see,” said her mother, before purchasing the dress. Years later, after her mother dies, Sugar indeed marries and has a daughter. The dress now represents a memory that can never be replaced.
Sugar’s advice is always warm and humane. Arguably the most poignant segment involves a man whose only son—aged 22—has been killed by a hit-and-run driver. The father feels he will be grief-stricken for the rest of his life. Sugar urges him to remember his son as someone who gave his father much joy—to dwell on the joy and not on the grief.
Augmenting the feeling of warmth is the staging. As the play progresses, director Thomas Kail (“Hamilton,” both at The Public Theater and on Broadway) places the other actors physically closer to Vardalos as the characters get closer to Sugar, making her seem even more accessible.
Throughout, the appealing Vardalos holds the stage confidently, with excellent support from the other players.
Although the play requires the audience to stretch its suspension of disbelief quite far–we must forget that these characters, sitting beside one another and talking to one another, are actually corresponding over the web—and we cannot see the results of Sugar’s advice, her words, nonetheless, strike home.
It is another moving production from The Public Theater, stressing the warmer, more humane aspects of our humanity.
‘Tiny Beautiful Things’
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette St.
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: 212-967-7555 or PublicTheater.org
Closes: Dec. 10
Diana Barth writes for various arts publications, including New Millennium. She may be contacted at DiaBarth99@gmail.com