By Alia Sinclair
Tiny Beautiful Things is a one-act play based on a collection of essays of the same name compiled from the anonymous advice column written by Cheryl Strayed.
It was adapted for the stage by actress and screenwriter Nia Vardalos and Directed for BAT Theatre by Devin Rodger.
It continues at Kennedy Catholic’s Little Theater on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons through May 14, 2023.
The play opens on a domestic scene, the living room of a middle-aged mother. Overturned toys and jackets that missed the hooks litter the floor, showing the attention to detail Set Dresser Cyndi Baumgardner took to engulf the audience in the life of our protagonist.
The opening scene brings the audience to “listen in” on an email between the current burnt-out writer of an anonymous advice column called Dear Sugar and our protagonist, “Sugar” (Olivia Robinson), later revealed to be Cheryl Strayed. The advice columnist asks Strayed if she would be willing to take over his column as he has no real interest or passion for it and – after some deliberating – Strayed agrees.
That is the extent of any narrative storytelling over the next hour and a half of the show. The play consists of three additional actors (Kpojo Kparyea, Shawna Petty, and Phillip Keiman) walking on and off stage narrating their inquiries to Strayed. After they tell their stories, Strayed narrates her reply.
The themes of the stories take no prisoners and leave no stone unturned. The realities of life are often dark and messy, and Tiny Beautiful Things does not shy away from addressing very real and very hard life circumstances. Everything from losing a child to sexual abuse is explored in this language-focused journey through the human experience.
Because we do not see a story arc take place, the entire play must stand or fall on the talent of the actors and their ability to evoke emotion and empathy within the audience. All four performers handled the material masterfully. Not only did they have a mammoth amount of dialogue to memorize (Robinson in particular) but they were completely dialed in to one another, connecting empathetically, giving themselves over to the telling of their stories. It was through the power of their real, raw emotion (no doubt buttressed by the direction of Rodger) that allowed the audience to become absorbed in the play without a typical narrative structure.
While some may struggle with the unconventional format and heavy themes, Tiny Beautiful Things will challenge your perspectives, hit a nerve a time or two, and prompt you to reflect on your own loves, losses, and the tiny beautiful things you’ve found along the way.
Fom the BAT website:
“BAT is proud to engage with artists and audiences on a wide range of subjects as we explore our shared humanity. To preserve the story-telling that will unfold onstage, we do not list all potential triggers for audiences. Tiny Beautiful Things may have triggers for some. This play contains strong language and some sensitive adult content. Please email [email protected] or call our office if you would like to discuss any concerns you have prior to attending.”
Photos by Michael Brunk:
- Sugar: Olivia Robinson is excited to be returning to BAT where she was last seen as a Phantom in The Rocky Horror Show. And unlike with that show, she really hopes that a worldwide pandemic does not follow this one. Fingers crossed. Past favorite roles include Cabaret (Fraulein Kost) and Taming of the Shrew (Grumio). She also can be seen occasionally performing with Drunken Owl Theatre at Jules Maes in Georgetown.
- Letter Writer #1: Phillip Keiman is so happy to be making his fifth appearance (and third venue) for BAT in Tiny Beautiful Things. Since his last show here he has been busy becoming an American citizen, winning best actor in the 2022 Seattle 48 hour film festival, and celebrating his 60th birthday! Previous roles include Balthazar Higgins for Pork Filled Productions in The Clockwork Professor, Lloyd Dallas for BAT in Noises Off, Niels Bohr for SSR in Copenhagen and Macbeth for Mad Dogs Theatre back in his native England. On the small screen he can be seen in the Prime Video series The Scottish Play, where he plays an English actor in an American Theatre company! He hopes you enjoy the show and also ponder the many life challenges it brings to the surface.
- Letter Writer #2: Kpojo Kparyea is excited to make her return to BAT. Her previous theatre works include Once on this Island with Twelfth Night Productions, The Christmas Spirit with BAT and Heathers: The Musical with UTS. In her free time, Kpojo enjoys reading, working out, and doom-scrolling on TikTok! Kpojo would like to thank her family and friends for their constant love, encouragement, and support.
- Letter Writer #3: Shawna Petty was raised in Kent, WA and has spent most of her life in or around the area. She is a graduate of Cornish College of the Arts, Class of 2014 where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a major in Theatre – Acting. Since graduating, Shawna has worked with a few local theatres in Kent and Seattle. In addition, Shawna has worked with BAT several times; she was a part of the Playwrights Festival in 2019 playing Beth in the premier of Hardened Criminals, took part performing in BAT’s fundraising Gala of 2019, and played in two of BAT’s “Shelter in Place” staged Zoom readings. When she isn’t on stage, Shawna enjoys working out, snuggling her pup, hanging out with her stepsons and watching baking championships on TV with her boyfriend. Shawna has been heard saying that the stage is her home and acting is the only thing that makes her truly feel alive.
Schedule, Tickets & Coupon
Tiny Beautiful Things runs April 21 through May 14, 2023 (Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 p.m.) at Kennedy Catholic High School, 140 S 140th St Burien, WA 98168-3496.
Masks are required.
Save $3 off with special coupon
Save $3 off tickets with the coupon code BLOG online here (choose your tickets, click on “Apply discount code” then enter BLOG), or print the coupon below and bring it to the box office:
Alia Sinclair is a writer residing in SeaTac. She is passionate about the arts and connecting people through the written word. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Patchwork Mosaic, a magazine for creatives.