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‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ review: Nia Vardalos plays Sugar columnist

Phillip James Brannon and Nia Vardalos star in

Phillip James Brannon and Nia Vardalos star in "Tiny Beautiful Things," based on the collection of advice columns by Cheryl Strayed, running at the Public Theater. Credit: Joan Marcus

WHAT “Tiny Beautiful Things”

WHERE Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.

INFO $95; 212-967-7555;

BOTTOM LINE Advice from a columnist makes a sappy play.

Have you ever wondered what kind of people write letters to advice columnists and who those anonymous would-be therapists might be?

Cheryl Strayed, before her memoir, “Wild,” became a bestseller and a movie, was a Portland, Oregon, wife mother and writer who, from 2010 to 2012, answered letters addressed to Dear Sugar that ran on a literary website called The Rumpus. The column, which used her own life to figure out other people’s problems, was so popular she collected them into a book, “Tiny Beautiful Things.”

Now Nia Vardalos, who wrote and starred in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” has adapted and stars in the play based on the book. It is co-conceived by Marshall Heyman and director Thomas Kail, who staged a little show called “Hamilton.”

Vardalos, as Sugar/Strayed, has an unaffected, straightforward steadiness and a compassionate face to match someone who presumes to answer pleas for help about sexual assault, restless marriages, abusive parents and the meaning of it all. She sits at her kitchen table in her modest house with the homey magnets on the fridge.

The house is populated by many invisible letter writers — portrayed by Phillip James Brannon, Alfredo Narcisco and Miriam Silverman. Perhaps to distract from the 80-minute play’s static, monotonous, confessional quality, they wander the place looking at knickknacks.

Meanwhile, Sugar reveals her own life traumas and comes up with uplifting psychobabble about healing and accepting “the authentic you.” She says we should “keep the faith,” but it’s just too sappy to be theatrical.

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