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4/6/2023        TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS                Theatrical Outfit


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Dear Sugar:


      There may not even be a question in here.  But I have to share.   Maybe even to vent.  I am a 70-year-old writer of supportive columns for Atlanta Theatre.  There is now a play downtown about you.  About the folks who write to you.  About the advice you give them.  No, not the advice.  About the unconditionally honest empathy you show them.  You may vent back at them (I’m looking at you, WTF).  You may joke with them.  You almost always share your own pain and mistakes and traumas with them.  But you always love them.


     It may be that I need some of that in my life.  Someone near and dear to me recently accused me of being a bad parent because I wasn’t harsh enough, even a little narcissistic.  They may not have been wrong.  I sometimes think of myself as a bad father, a bad husband, a bad writer.  I need to know that it is sometimes okay, even a little human, to be a bad father, a bad husband, a bad writer.


     I have tried over the past {mumble mumble} years to create an autobiographical approach to “reviewing,” to acknowledge biases that color how I engage with theatre, to suppress all those judgmental impulses that make me want to mock bad choices or less-than-optimal approaches or just waste-my-time by-the-numberisms.  I hate seeing a play that makes easy choices instead of great choices.  This is not one of them.

     All of this means I over-share and bring too much of myself into my writing.  For example, what good does it do an analysis if I include the information that I am a College-Educated Liberal Atheist Boomer happily married (for 25 years) to a Catholic-School-Educated Conservative Gen-Xer?  I could hazard a guess and say that our happy marriage is proof positive that the societal divisiveness of our current sound-byte ethos is a manufactured illusion, that it’s more productive to walk a mile in the shoes of those we judge harshly, that the “other” is no different from the “us.”  After all, that’s the approach you take for your advice.


    All of this is to say I hope you can give me some advice on how to approach a column on you, on your book Tiny Beautiful Things, on the play adapted by Nia Vardalos, on the production directed by Amber McGinnis, on the Hulu series that (in a stunning synchronicity of timing) drops this week.  After all, the time I spent at Theatrical Outfit with you and your correspondents was the highlight of my week, maybe even my play-going year.



                                    College-Educated Liberal Atheist Boomer



Dear College-Educated Liberal Atheist Boomer:


     Maybe you should approach this by conceiving of a letter to me.  But don’t forget to mention how I wish I was as compelling as Maria Rodriguez-Sager who plays me.  That the talents of the letter-writing actors, Robin Bloodworth, Candy McLellan, and Stephen Ruffin are overwhelming in the depth and breadth of their many characterizations. 


     For the record, I wish my home looked as wonderful as Shannon Robert’s set, though I AM grateful they remembered to keep it cluttered and untidy to reflect ANY home in which a new baby rules.  Carolyn Cook’s properties and set decorations go a long way to reminding me what it was like when my daughter was still a baby,


     But stop kicking yourself!  If you could go back and tell your younger self how to approach reviewing and theatre and, well, life, you couldn’t do better than to tell yourself to embrace radical empathy, to defy the logic of divisiveness, to engage with a work of art rather than to sit and judge.   But it looks to me like you already took that advice those {mumble mumble} years ago.


     It’s a tiny thing.  But it’s beautiful!





    -- Brad Rudy (   #toTBT)

PS -- So, do I have thoughts on the Hulu series based on this book? Of course I do. I was (ever so slightly) disappointed that it chose to focus more on "Sugar" (here fictionalized, renamed, and given a new backstory) than on the letters and letter writers. OTOH, "Claire" is played marvelously by Kathryn Hahn), and we see her at various ages and levels of "being broken." The series is really about her stumbling towards healing both herself and her dysfunctional family (families?). When the letters enter the story -- and a few do -- Claire's story provides so many emotional levels to "Sugar's" responses that, I was eventually won over. The series is six half-hour episodes (all available on Hulu) that each show us multiple moments in time and multiple opportunities for wrong/right choices. Each ends with a song over the end titles that you really should listen through to get the full emotional impact. And, you should know that, unlike the book and play, the series is more about how the letters affect Claire than about how she affects the letter-writers. In the final analysis, I hope the show continues for many more seasons.

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