Home Theatre Emotionally Resonant Acting Highlights “tiny father” at The Geffen Playhouse

Emotionally Resonant Acting Highlights “tiny father” at The Geffen Playhouse

Geffen Playhouse
Maurice Williams and Tiffany Villarin in "tiny father" at The Geffen Playhouse (Photo by Justin Bettman)

As the lead characters in a genuinely moving production, Maurice Williams and Tiffany Villarin raise thought-provoking questions, challenging perceptions and expanding awareness.

By John Lavitt

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 07-01-2024

What is so remarkable about the theatre is the ability of a play to transport the audience to a time and place they have never experienced firsthand. In the best cases, a production can open a door into a profound and emotional experience. Although we are not surprised by what is happening and know that such things could happen, we have never experienced it firsthand. At the Geffen Playhouse, “tiny father” opens the door to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), bringing the audience on an unforgettable journey.

Written by Mike Lew and directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel, “tiny father” is the story of a baby girl born fourteen weeks before term. As the story opens, although Daniel (Maurice Williams) is the biological father, he has no plans to participate in the child’s life. The product of a “friends with benefits” relationship between Daniel and Yuki, he only showed up because she had no one else to bring her to the hospital. With her elderly parents in Japan and unable to travel, she is alone in this country and had planned to raise the child alone.

However, we never meet Yuki because Daniel becomes the sole parent when she tragically dies from a hemorrhage the day after the birth. Thus, Daniel is left to face a big decision as his infant child struggles to survive in a plastic incubator with wires, tubes, and IV drips. With almost the entire play set in the NICU, Daniel’s only interactions are with Caroline (Tiffany Villarin), the night nurse who watches over the struggling infants. Their roller-coaster connection is the heart and soul of the play as Daniel negotiates with his paternal ambivalence.

As Caroline, Tiffany Villarin is a revelation as she keeps extreme emotions under the surface while focusing on the precision of her demanding work. As the days pass, the little girl is given a name – Sonia – but she is not given a parent in the beginning. Daniel never imagined falling into such a position, and he struggles with the idea of a lifelong responsibility. Ultimately, the story is not about whether or not Julia survives her early struggles. Instead, the plot focuses on Daniel’s evolution into fatherhood and acceptance of such a monumental responsibility.

What is so remarkable about the play is the deep look into a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).  Although she has her own children at home, Caroline is dedicated to her job. Although such work is exhausting, she focuses on precision and professionalism. At times, as Daniel’s journey juts against her life, her emotions surface in a controlled fashion that is wonderful to behold. There are so many things that Caroline wants to say, but she bites the lip of her soul.

tiny father
The Geffen Playhouse Playhouse Production of “tiny father” (Photo by Justin Bettman)

As Daniel, Williams takes on the challenge of the character by allowing the journey into fatherhood to unfold slowly. Nothing happens overnight, and the passing of time allows for his transformation as reluctance shifts into love and dedication. Such a transformation places Daniel and Caroline at odds on a whole new level. Rather than avoiding responsibility, Daniel feels the need to take control of the fate of his child. In the end, his journey demands respect for his acceptance of responsibility.

Indeed, “tiny father” makes perfect sense as a part of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s inaugural season as Artistic Director of The Geffen Playhouse. As a playwright, as well as the winner of an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Moonlight, McCraney is a master of telling stories where characters take a journey into awareness and realization. As part of this season, “tiny father” is a beautiful example of a human journey expressed on stage. While taking this journey, the play opens a door for the audience into a challenging experience fraught with hard emotional questions and real physical dangers.

Photos by Justin Bettman