LOGAN – Normally, a play-reading is considered to be a less-then-ideal format for a dramatic production, lacking a main-stage show’s physical action, costumes, blocking, lights, etc.

Given the subject matter of Tiny Beautiful Things presented by the Theatre Arts Program at Utah State University on Mar. 29, however, a play-reading may have been the perfect vehicle to tell its story.

With just four actors on an empty stage in the USU Black Box Theatre, the play-reading obliged its audience to focus on the heart-wrenching, all-important words of letters that flew between advice-seekers and real-life self-help guru Cheryl Strayed.

The no-frills but still memorable production breathed vibrant life into playwright Nia Vardalos’ adaptation of the Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation of advice letters written to Ms. Stayed while she filled the anonymous role of “Dear Sugar” in the online literary journal Rumpus from 2010 to 2012.

Last seen in 2023 USU productions of This is Not a Drill and We Are Pussy Riot, Megan Bedel read the role of Sugar spendidly.

She is convincingly hesitant at first, before realizing that her own experiences – for better or worst – had to power to provide solace to many of the broken souls who sought her advice.

After finding her genuine voice as Sugar, Ms. Bedel’s advice flowed like poetry by the end of Tiny Beautiful Things.

The other performers – Kaito Davis, Samantha Capener and Niko Barlow – remain nameless as they rapidly switch roles and even genders while representing the readers who solicited advice from “Dear Sugar.”

While hiding behind pseudonyms like “Confused,” “Not Buying It” and “Living Dead Dad,” they poured out their hearts to Sugar about the trauma of being raped, suffering a miscarriage or losing a child.

In return, they received searingly honest, but equally heartfelt commentary from the soul of Sugar, not your typical your typical advice column bromides.

Strayed’s advice has lived on long after Sugar’s columns in The Rumpus ended in 2012. Her thoughts were collected first in the self-help book of the same name that year, followed by the debut of Vardalos’ stage adaptation off-Broadway in 2016. The advice column also inspired a television show and a podcast.

Directed by Michael Shipley, Tiny Beautiful Things will continue for one night only at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Mar. 30.

The Black Box Theatre is located in the Chase Fine Arts Building on the USU campus.

Admission to Tiny Beautiful Things is free, but patrons are advised that seating in the Black Box Theatre is limited.

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