By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
photo by Wirges Photography
From left, Tim Tully, Emily Gates, Susan Cookie Baker and Richard “Chomps” Thompson share pressing personal problems in an advice column.
If you haven't been out of your house for 14 COVID months “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Nia Vardalos, now playing at the Invisible Theatre, is the perfect play to remind you what life was like before the pandemic neutralized our lives.
Vardalos is best known for writing and starring in the insightful comedy film about complicated family bonding, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Here on the theater stage she takes a broader look at the rest of America's middle class foibles by turning to that eternally seductive format, the free-wheeling advice columnist.
Ipso facto the playwright adapted for the stage Cheryl Strayed's collection of advice columns written and published as the popular book “Tiny Beautiful Things.” Who knows what makes this bittersweet sort of narrative so seductive to read, whether its's online or in a newspaper. Or gathered together in a book.
Admit it, you can't resist reading them, either.
Maybe it is the unpretentious assumptions, the love-me-or-leave-me attitudes that director Samantha Cormier charts so clearly in this touching production.
Unfaithful spouses complain about the adulterous attitudes of their mates. Young men, heartsick and lost, suddenly discover their muscular strength and athletic quickness aren't worth anything against the whims of a woman who has her man exactly where she wants him.
Other women, sadder by far, feel the inequalities of an economic system stacked against their paychecks, working for bosses who make unreasonable demands. Harried husbands describe what it feels like to be torn between their own threadbare wives and those always flashier lovers.
Strayed's columns were written anonymously, always signed “Sugar.” In this lively rendition, Susan Cookie Baker plays the role of Sugar, facing the columnist's daily email tsunami of winners and victims, cheaters and champions.
What will touch your heart is Sugar's defiant honesty. Instead of saying dump him or trump him, Sugar will answer a sad story by remembering an even sadder one from her own life. She isn't telling the writer what to do so much as providing something to compare.
It's like getting battle-tested advice from the soldier in the next fox hole. You know it has been run through the wringer of reality.
The other cast members are Tim Tully, Emily Gates and Richard “Chomps” Thompson. They take turns portraying the myriad letter writers, saying their lines like reading their own letters, adding body language and inflection to express the intensity of their feelings.
Baker gets to create a more complete character, seeing Sugar as a sympathetic ear rather than a blind justice dispensing fairness and letting the chips fall where they may. Sugar's advice comes from a much warmer place. A mother's love, an anguished heart, and a weary traveler, all rolled into one lump of Sugar.
Although the threat of COVID seems to be waning, Invisible Theatre's managing artistic director Susan Claassen and staff are maintaining full vigilance on stage and in the theater. There is no intermission or gathering in the lobby before the performance.
Cast members will not wear masks, but all have completed their vaccinations and will maintain their social distance on stage. The audience will be expected to wear masks, with distanced and reserved theater seating as issued by the CDC and City of Tucson.
No tickets will be sold at any performance. Ticket holders are asked to take their temperatures before leaving home and will be asked to arrive at a specific time to be taken directly to their seats. Should there be any COVID symptoms, alternate performance reservations can be arranged.
"Tiny Beautiful Things” runs 80 minutes without intermission. General admission tickets are $40, students $20. Performances are 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. most Saturdays and all Sundays, through June 27 at the Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
To make reservations: (520) 882-9721, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.invisibletheatre.com for online purchase 24/7 through Ovation Tix.