You want to see Tiny Beautiful Things, the play now being streamed by the George Street Playhouse. You do.
You want to see it for several reasons, and they comprise pretty much everything about the play: the work itself, the actors, their performances, the setting, and the manner in which the drama is presented under the direction of David Saint.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the necessity imposed by the pandemic prompted George Street to cobble together a season of four plays presented “virtually”—a term that has evolved from nerd talk to everyday lingo.
The first two plays were one-handers, and this one, available through May 23, has a cast of four: Laiona Michelle, Kally Duling, John Bolger, and Ryan George—all accomplished actors and all veterans of George Street productions.
Tiny Beautiful Things was adapted by Nia Vardalos, of My Fat Greek Wedding fame, from a best-selling book in which Cheryl Strayed presented a collection of essays extracted from an on-line advice column—Dear Sugar—that she wrote for several years.
Laiona Michelle plays “Sugar” and the other three actors play her correspondents, putting flesh and blood to the keyboard messages in which they sought answers, counsel, comfort—anything.
Sugar, who had no experience as an advisor before she took over the unpaid gig from a friend, soon gets her sea legs and begins to respond by drawing on her own frequently uncomfortable experience.
The dialogue that ensues involves such topics as parent-child relationships, sexual abuse, substance addiction, guilt, grief, adultery, commitment and fear of commitment. It also involves compassion, self-worth, healing, forgiveness, and redemption.
These conversations, as it were, are presented in a kind of fantasy atmosphere in which all of the characters are present in the same place, and Sugar is intermittently preparing a meal, a shared experience—a “holy communion” in its own way—toward which everything in the play is tending.
Like the first two plays in this season, this one was staged and recorded at the home of a generous George Street patron and board member.
David Saint uses several locations inside and outside the house (where the Raritan River plays a provocative supporting role) that, combined with the camera shots and lighting he chooses, evokes moods of anger, despair, and confusion but ultimately resolves in hope.
For Laiona Michelle, this play is a tour-de-force. Thanks to the frequent close framing, her elegant features stir up regret, fear, affection, and even whimsy as she answers her correspondents. We can read in her face when her responses are crossing over into deep introspection.
The other three actors are equally mesmerizing—especially Duling in a passage about a mom still mourning a miscarried child; George as a son whose parents have finally accepted his gender transition, and Bolger in a gut-wrenching exchange with Michelle as a father whose 22-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver. That scene alone is worth the price of admission—or, rather, streaming.
Oh, yes. You want to see this.
Household tickets to the plays in the George Street Playhouse streaming season can be purchased for $33 at GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org. Each subscriber household will receive a unique link to view the performance.
Cinematography by Michael Boylan