Jeff Grubb's Ruminations, Comments, and Other Nonsense
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Theatre: Other People's Mail
Tiny Beautiful Things, - Based on the book by Cheryle Strayed, Adapted for the Stage by Nia Vardalos, Co-Conceived byi Marshall Heyman, Thomas Kail, and Nia Vardalos, Directed by Courtney Sale, Seattle SEP through June 23rd.
Review first, then a summary of the season.
Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of advice articles spread out into a theatrical format. A new advice columnist (Julia Briskman) settles into her job under the pseudonym Sugar, working from home, and advising people who write into her column. In the process she reveals her own traumas and backstory. I can't say the letters become therapy for her, but it does help her define how she has dealt with abuse, drugs, family and marital problems in the past It is less of a play than a greatest hits collection - the plot has only the slightest arc, and problems posed by the writers are never really resolved (so far as we know).
As she answers those seeking advice, the house becomes haunted with the spirits of the letter-writers, played by three actors (Chantal Groat, Justin Huertas, and Charles Leggett), who meld into a stream of supplicants, alternating begging for advice and castigating Sugar for lacking consistency in her replies. And all the actors are brilliant in their parts as well as being familiar faces, having been in plays old and new at the Rep: Julia Briskman was in The Beard of Avon, The Imaginary Invalid, adn The Servant to Two Masters, Chantal Degroat popped up in Well, Charles Leggett has been everywhere (A Raisin in the Sun, both of the recent Sherlock Holmes plays, Of Mice and Men, Glengarry Glen Ross, Opus), and Justin Huertas was the mind behind and the star of Lizard Boy.
And this is where the Rep truly acts like a repertory company - you get to see actors that you know, as opposed to some polished road show that swoops in, adapts for the particular stage and audience, does its listed number of shows, then swoops out to the next gig. The play itself is slight, but the actors sparkle, feeding off each other, dropping into and out of conversations, and giving Sugar company as they take over her home.
And her home is probably the most Seattle-like stage I have seen, right down to the games in the corner, the Xbox hooked up to the TV (playing Minecraft), the IKEA furniture, and the multi-toned walls. Yes, the place looks lived in, and fits the nature of the performances.
The play is a slight thing, but the actors are great. It wraps up this weekend, and there are worse ways to spend a Sunday matinee.
Tiny Beautiful Things wraps up the season for the Rep, and it has been a little .... weird this time out. And I think part of it is because so much of it had sources in other media. Thousand Splendid Suns was an adaptation of a book. A People's History rested firmly on a foundation of Howard Zinn (and yeah, I bailed on listening to all of the performances about a third of the way in), Last of the Boys sets itself on MacNamara's biography. A Doll's House Part 2 comes out of a Doll's House Part One (so that's at least still theatre). Nina Simone was deeply drenched in her music. I THINK The Woman in Black was fully original, and In the Heights is on the boards primarily because of its later relative, Hamilton.
And Tiny Beautiful Things is based on a book which in turn was based on articles. This was a season where you needed a lot more backstory that previous years. I don't know if that was its intention, or it just worked out that way. But everything this year seemed to be leaning on something else.
There was good stuff - The Woman in Black was great, and I'm a fan of A People's History, but the bulk of the season felt like there were jokes I was missing, references that went right past me, things that required some prep time. I dunno - I can sustain repeated Shakespeare and Moliere and August Wilson until the scripts themselves become translucent from wear and the print fades to grey, and I can get behind new works that are experimental, but this season? This season was sort of other people's stories, cut and fit to the stage.
The advantage of all this is that, of course, there is a next season as well, and I will embrace that as well. And maybe I will be talking about other things than just plays in this blog,