“LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE.”
It is human nature to bottle up things inside oneself. Through our life experiences, we develop our own coping mechanisms to deal with guilt, grief and anger. Addressing a wide range of emotional chaos requires personal recognition and acceptance, and then the comfort and support of others to help us reach for whatever comes next.
To some, recognizing what is happening and seeking help often seems hopeless. When you find yourself in a state of confusion, broken and unable to communicate with anyone, where do you turn to release the heartbreak of lost love or infidelity, the anguish of gender-identity issues, the insecurity and fear of bullying, the hopelessness of drug addiction, the conflicted feelings of sexual abuse or the sadness following the death of a loved one?
Thousands of writers to The Rumpus, an online literary magazine, found solace in the advice of the anonymous columnist, Sugar—later revealed as Cheryl Strayed—whose work is known as much for its edgy opinions as it is for her deeply personal observations that serve as emotional guideposts.
Delving into Strayed’s very real life story through her column entries serves as the premise of “Tiny Beautiful Things,” an intriguing play that has been exquisitely adapted by Nia Vardalos from Strayed’s best-selling book. The production, in its Chicago premiere at Victory Gardens Theater, is under the earnest direction of Vanessa Stalling who, with the incomparable Janet Ulrich Brooks as Sugar, unpack Strayed’s compelling story in 80 briskly paced minutes. The fine supporting cast features three actors as letter writers—Eric Slater, Jessica Dean Turner and August Forman—who portray a diverse range of characters.
Victory Gardens Začek McVay mainstage has been transformed into a glistening Courtney O’Neill-designed coffee house where Strayed is first recruited to become the online voice of Sugar. In the questions, we discover aspects of our own existence: Why does this happen to me? What should I do? How can I let go? The insightful, often raw nature of Sugar’s replies becomes a startlingly fresh opportunity for the writer to connect on a deeply personal level. Brooks’s remarkable performance, hued with passion and empathy, is both touching and in-the-moment. Avoiding the urge to steer to safer, common ground, Brooks seizes the power of the storyteller, illuminates the pain of her own experiences, churns it about in her mind and then lofts it back to us with just the right amount of sensitivity, humor and resolve.
One of the most remarkable aspects of director Stalling’s growing and impressive body of work is her acute sense of rhythmic pace. These are individually exceptional performances from a company that is ever-present, constantly moving you over the course of the play from the place you were to a new understanding of acceptance, forgiveness and love.
VICTORY GARDENS THEATER
TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS
through October 13
2433 North Lincoln Avenue
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