(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/7.)

Whenever a certain flicker — of curiosity, recognition and bone-deep affinity — lights up the gaze of the woman who calls herself Sugar, brace yourself for a good (and good is the word) cry. You can first spot that wakening flame in the opening minutes of “Tiny Beautiful Things,” the handkerchief-soaking meditation on pain, loss, hope and forgiveness that opened on Wednesday night at the Public Theater.

At that point, a professional writer who is also a mother of two has just agreed, via phone, to be the agony aunt for an unpaid online advice column called “Dear Sugar.” Portrayed by Nia Vardalos, the newly anointed Sugar finds her toy-cluttered kitchen and living room invaded by a multitude of voices, embodied by three performers who circle her like wandering satellites.

Questions pour out of them, about being seasick and about being spied on (by the widow next door), about needing money and about having an eighth-grade science class partner who picks his nose. But it’s the guy who identifies himself as “Confused” who causes Sugar to open her eyes wider and really, really focus.

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