Sunday, February 2, 2020

"Tiny, Beautiful Things" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Cheryl Strayed wrote "Tiny, Beautiful Things." She was sitting at the end of our row on Opening Night at San Francisco Playhouse. After the curtain came down, the cast walked out for well-deserved and enthusiastic bows and then, as the applause was dying down, someone yelled: "Thank YOU, Cheryl Strayed!" The author stood up and received a second thunderous round of applause. The show is that good.

OK, OK, so I'm the person who yelled. 

"Tiny, Beautiful Things," for this reviewer, is about two not-so-tiny things: loneliness, and forgiveness. The words come from letters for help sent to "Dear Sugar," an anonymous internet advice column that Strayed ran for several years, followed by her powerful, heartfelt responses. These columns were then adapted into a play by Nia Vardalos and opened at the Public Theater in New York in 2016.

Susi Damilano is Sugar. She is brilliant. This is a difficult role because Strayed's words are thick and emotional. The monologues are lengthy and filled with both wisdom and humor, angst and delight. Sugar is catering to lonely and broken people but it is she who has fought herself out of those emotional caverns where they live now. Damilano uses her face, her arms, her body and most of all her eyes to show us, the audience, the care and tough love she is willing to give to her readers, who are hanging on very single word as if their lives depend on her.

Kina Kantor, Jomar Tagatac and Mark Anderson Phillips play many different parts, each one a new supplicant writing to "Dear Sugar." The three are all physical actors, imbuing their queries with motion as well as emotion. Phillips stalks the stage and screams in pain, Tagatac hides inside his hoodie and Kantor is both accusing and breathless with every word. 

And those words. What a writer. Nia Vardalos's adaptation and Bill English's direction bring the words to life. Each character is given room to breathe, in that way allowing themselves to be set on the road towards healing.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼ BANG

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Tiny, Beautiful Things" FOUR STARS with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. We can't say enough for this show. The set is gorgeous, the acting approaches perfection and, towering above it all, we experience the power and glory of a writer at the top of her game.

The Bangle has to be for Susi Damilano's Sugar, which, incidentally, she performs in socks. But I must also mention the "Numbers" set piece, in which Mark Anderson Phillips managed to smash my heart so that Sugar's answer could somehow put me back together again. 

"Tiny, Beautiful Things"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, Second Floor of Kensington Park Hotel
Through March 7

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