220113ind TinyBeautiful

Angela Brazil plays advice columnist Sugar in Trinity Repertory Company’s production of ‘Tiny Beautiful Things,’ which opens tonight for previews. Regular performances continue through Feb. 13.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — At 10:30 on a Saturday morning, Curt Columbus, artistic director at Trinity Repertory Company, was looking at a long day.

It was tech week for the upcoming production of Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things,” and Columbus expected to be at the theater for another 12 hours.

He was willing, however, to share his enthusiasm for this “funny, deeply touching and uplifting play,” as the company’s publicity describes it. His quote: “It is such a powerful collection of wisdom, heartache, and joy, that we knew our audiences would love it.”

“Tiny Beautiful Things” is based on Strayed’s New York Times best seller of the same name, a collection of essays she wrote as Sugar, an anonymous advice columnist for “The Rumpus,” an online literary magazine. She drew from her own life for much that advice, including her experience hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail as she worked through her own grief. She wrote about that journey in her memoir “Wild,” which was adapted for a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.

“She is so clear-eyed and blunt and open hearted,” Columbus said of Strayed’s writing. “This is all about how we survive the things we think we can’t survive.” Even if we don’t share the specific experience, the queries from letter writers are ones “we all can relate to,” he said. “It becomes your story as you listen to it.”

Actor and writer Nia Vardalos, with co-creators Marshall Heyman and Thomas Kail, adapted the book for the stage. An alumna of Chicago’s The Second City, Vardalos famously wrote and appeared in the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Other credits include television and a best-selling memoir, “Instant Mom,” proceeds from which are donated to adoption groups.

Vardalos portrayed Sugar in the play’s premiere at the Public Theater Off-Broadway in 2016. Company member Angela Brazil assumes the role at Trinity Rep, and Columbus directs.

Brazil brings a “deep understanding” to Sugar’s personality and writing, Columbus noted. “Cheryl Strayed’s writing is so specific; she has these incredible turns of phrase, which Angela knows so well.” As the director of Brown/Trinity Rep master’s degree programs in acting and directing, Brazil has used Strayed’s work in her classroom.

Interacting with Sugar on stage are “letter writers” played by company members Stephen Berenson, Phyllis Kay and Brian McEleney, as well as guest actors Marcel Mascaro and Jenna Lea Scott. Each portrays a range of characters, not necessarily of their same age or gender.

Finally, unlike the original staging, Trinity Rep’s production includes music, composed and performed by Gunnar Manchester, a student in the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA program.

“Gunnar has composed gorgeous music for violin and some singing,” Columbus said, adding that music “re-orients the way we look at things,” supporting themes and moods.

Performances of “Tiny Beautiful Things” are at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Rep, 201 Washington St., beginning with a pay-what-you-wish performance tonight (Thursday, Jan. 13); tickets go on sale at 6:30 and are limited to one per person. Open captioning performances and a sensory-friendly performance also are scheduled. The show is on stage through Feb. 13, and tickets start at $27. For details, visit www.trinityrep.com/beautiful.

Trinity Rep is one of nine Rhode Island performing arts organizations and venues requiring proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or negative, time-limited PCR or antigen tests. All patrons must wear masks when inside the venue. Specific information is available at trinityrep.com/health.

One hour before curtain, a cast member will lead a 30-minute Prologue discussion about the show’s themes and production process. Admission is included with every ticket.

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