by Beki Pineda

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS – Conceived by Thomas Kail, Marshall Heyman and Nia Vardalos based on the book by Cheryl Strayed; Directed by Kate Austin-Groen.  Produced by OpenStage Theatre Company (presented in the Backyard at the Museum of Discovery, 408 Mason Court, Fort Collins) through June 12.  Tickets available at 970-484-5237 or openstage.com.

I’ve decided that I’ve neglected the excellent theatre being presented  in both Fort Collins and Colorado Springs; hopefully, readers in both places and in between will begin to discover with me the fine work being done by talented performers all along the Front Range.  So here’s our mutual introduction to Fort Collins theatre and it couldn’t have been a better choice.

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS has a powerful message, parts of which will impact one way or the other nearly everyone in the audience.  As a script, it reminds me so much of EVERY BRILLIANT THING, the wonderful story of a man who starts keeping a list of all the beautiful things in life to try to cheer up his chronically depressed mother.  Both plays implore us to find the meaningful parts of life that keep us going.  EVERY BRILLIANT THING challenges us to recognize the world around us worth celebrating – ice cream, peeing in the ocean, the color yellow.  TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS dives into the life experiences of a strong compassionate woman to find solutions to human problems.  Adapted by Nia Vardalos (think BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING)  from a book of the same title that chronicles the real life experiences of Cheryl Strayed who actually had an advice column for an on-line magazine called The Rumpus, her mantra became TRUST YOURSELF as she used her own life and beliefs to help her readers plow through their personal problems.  Known for her humor, compassion and blunt honesty (“Be brave enough to break your own heart”), her devoted followers became legend.

In Strayed’s words as she took on the column:  “I will be open with you.  I will be bare.  I will show you my broken-ness and my strengths.  I will do my best to give  you my best advice and I don’t know if that advice is wrong or right.  It’s what I believe to be true . . . Healing is a fierce place.  You have to work  hard to get there.”

As a small cast production that played beautifully outside on a lovely set put together by Michael Gorgon, Nicole Gawronski brought the wit and wisdom of Strayed to life by answering the questions sent to her by her letter writers – Daniel Harkins, Kaya Rudolph, and Robert Moore – representing dozens of people with dozens of problems.  She tackled such diverse issues as marital break-ups (“Is GO in your mind?  Will you do it now or later?”), professional jealousy, the loss of a child, a woman turned on by Santa Claus, a transgender woman’s difficulty with acceptance.  One piece of advice I carried home with me – “When the gay couple next door invite you over for Ecstasy, DON’T GO!”  Based on her personal experience.

The show starts at 7 and is short enough that you will still get home before total darkness.  One piece of advice that I missed in the instructions about directions and time – TAKE A CHAIR unless you really want to sit on the ground.  This sweet insightful play will send you  home with warm thoughts toward your fellow humans in your heart.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!