An advice columnist reads the moving letters she receives and her heartfelt answers, revealing both the anguish of human frailties and the triumph of being a survivor
“..W—T—F---!, W—T—F--, W—T—F—..”
Lesser eyes would likely receive this repeat letter and shrug. Not advice columnist Cheryl Strayed, a.k.a. Sugar (Janet Ulrich Brooks) , though. She knows how to read the invisible ink hidden in the missives of the souls who pen her hoping for help in navigating the challenges of their days. She says – in her way- “Yeah, W—T—F--! Here’s one of mine…” , and then proceeds to dive deep into her soul to help de-code the universal language of being human.
It’s about midway in this 80-minute play when Sugar shares her own W-T-F moment. The stylish green décor of what seems to be a café (Set Design: Courtney O’Neill) has already receded into deep background as the three letter writers (August Forman, Eric Slater and Jessica Dean Turner) reach out to Sugar in their confusion, guilt, grief, and more.
We know these letter writers only briefly—but we do KNOW them deeply as they take center stage to send an S.O.S. from their soul. Their performances, in this writer’s view, are electric.
The script is entirely the reading of this correspondence between Sugar and her fans—an unusual format that will likely appeal to a wide audience. It is not unlike the bare-all of a poetry slam or a creative writing class.
For this reviewer, it was as though all the regulars in Hopper’s Nighthawk café had been given laptops and Sugar’s email address. Grief, loss, abuse, cruelty are the landscape. With each letter, it’s Sugar who is revealed—the ever hopeful survivor who wants to share her vitamins of realism and optimism with her pen pals.
It’s no wonder that the award-winning book that this play is based on was a Book Club pick by Strayed’s fellow survivor Oprah.
Anyone who treasures theater that speaks to human connection will find much to savor in this script. Director Vanessa Stalling has martialed the talents of this top tier cast and creative team to allow the script to sing. If you love to watch Oprah, in this writer’s view, you should especially beat a path to the box office to see this play soon, and maybe more than once.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
Title: Tiny Beautiful Things
Based on the book by: Cheryl Strayed
Adapted for the stage by: Nia Vardalos
Co-Conceived by: Marshall Heyman, Thomas Kail and Nia Vardalos
Directed by: Vanessa Stalling
Thru October 20, 2019
Tuesdays - Fridays: 7:30pm
Saturdays: 3:00pm; 7:30pm
Victory Gardens Theater
2433 N. Lincoln Avenue
Janet Ulrich Brooks (Sugar), August Forman (Letter Writer 3), Eric Slater (Letter Writer 1), and Jessica Dean Turner (Letter Writer 2)
Courtney O’Neill (scenic design), Theresa Ham (costume design), Rachel Levy (lighting design), Jeffery Levin (sound design and original music), and Rachel Watson (props design)
For full-priced tickets and ticket availability information visit the Victory Gardens Theater website or visit/call the Victory Gardens Box Office -- 773.871.3000
Photos: Liz Lauren
Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago