The program for this play carries a WARNING: “This production contains coarse language, dead blackouts and letters sent by real people seeking advice on all matters of life including complex conversations around life, death, and love” and refers patrons and matrons to Beyond Blue, Lifeline and Headspace.
The warning applies to the genuine letters from Cheryl Strayed’s book which she collated from correspondence she responded to under the name of “Sugar” in an “agony aunt” column for the website The Rumpus.
When Nia Vardalis, the playwright of Tiny Beautiful Things, was given a copy of the book, she was moved: “As I read the letters exchanged, I wept, smiled, and was astonished by the raw and extraordinary candor.”
Vardalis is the screenwriter and star of the My Big Fat Greek Wedding films, which are funny and warm and touch on the quirks of Greek people and culture. She was the perfect choice for adapting Strayed’s play for the stage.
Mandy McElhinney takes on the role of Sugar as she goes about her housework on a set that presents a domestic living space that clearly contains signs of young children.
The roles of the three letter writers are filled by Stephen Geronimos, Angela Nica Sullen and Nic Prior.
Sugar is a funny, candid and honest correspondent as she responds to letters from all kinds of people from all walks of life. She is compassionate but also very direct, sometimes revealing extremely personal details about her own life. As director Lee Lewis notes, the play is “an extraordinary tribute to the tradition of ‘kitchen table wisdom’.”
“I have never read another play like Tiny Beautiful Things,” says Lewis. “It is, I think, part of a new wave of writing that is diving deep into emotion. Emotions that are deeply familiar or strangely disorienting. There is no right way to make or receive plays like this, there is no theatrical guidebook for artists or audience. This is not in the tradition of ‘the well-made play’. The story, if there is one for you, rises up through an accumulation of moments… much like life. This is, if you like, a new way of trying to create a portrait of life.”
The audience certainly loved the play and gave it a standing ovation on opening night.