“Tiny Beautiful Things” to Kick-off Summer Season Under the Stars
By Kate Forgach
For those who grew up with Ann Landers and her twin sister Dear Abby, advice columnist “Sugar” is a breed apart. In “Tiny Beautiful Things,” OpenStage Theatre’s production of the play based on Sugar’s columns (collected into a book of the same name), we see a woman entirely willing to open her heart and publicly expose her life history to her letter writers. (Heck, we didn’t even find out Ann and Abby hadn’t spoken for years until long into their feud.)
Scheduled to run May 27 to June 12 in the “backyard” of the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, 408 Mason St., “Tiny Beautiful Things” is based on the book by Cheryl “Sugar” Strayed (who also wrote the popular “Alive) and adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos. (Content Warning: The show discusses topics of child abuse, sexual abuse/assault, and drug abuse. It is recommended for ages 16-and-up, with parents’ discretion.)
Directed by long-time OpenStager Kate Austin-Groen, “Things” features Nicole Gawronski as Sugar, backed by Daniel Harkins, Kaya Rudolph, and Robert Moore as the letter writers.
“Things” follows the relationships between Sugar and her many letter-writers, who share their most intimate secrets with the online columnist. With empathy, courage, and compassion, she weaves her own life story into the support she offers her many readers.
“Things” is staged with Sugar at home behind a laptop, the actors voicing their letters aloud. She replies with advice wrapped around examples from her life story. The letters range from the light-hearted (someone’s girlfriend has a Santa Claus fetish) to the serious (a survivor of sexual abuse discloses her trauma to her current partner). Sugar’s responses always convey authenticity, compassion, and strength.
Director Austin-Groen says she chose the play because, “It just struck me that her advice includes so much to which we all can relate, given where we are with Covid. Really, it’s about Sugar using these characters as a way to resolve her complex issues, largely with her parents.
Sugar repeatedly surprises her readers through her abject honesty and thoughtfulness, but Austin-Groen says Gawronski is able to deliver the extremely disturbing passages with great approachability.
“When somebody shares something with you and is vulnerable, it’s great if you can share that vulnerability right back,” says Gawronski. “Sugar dishes out a lot of tough love, but what’s she’s really doing is reaffirming that people have the power within themselves to get unstuck and move on with their lives.”
Austin-Groen added, “There are these weird, beautiful little bits of wisdom sprinkled throughout that are so powerful and beautiful. Everybody can relate to this show, one way or another, given how the play is about connecting without ever meeting in person. It greatly resonates with our current environment.”
Lest audiences think they’re in for a difficult slog, playwright Vardalos includes a great deal of humor that leavens “Things.”
Austin-Groen recommends audiences attend with an open mind. “It’s a beautiful show, funnier than you would think and something to which we all can relate.”
Tickets for “Tiny Beautiful Things” are $22 and are available online at www.openstagetbt.com or by calling the Lincoln Center Box Office at 970-221-6730.