Theater Review: TINY FATHER (Geffen Playhouse)

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by Shari Barrett on June 23, 2024

in Theater-Los Angeles


Sometimes life throws you for a loop when fun times take a turn in unexpected ways, changing your whole life in an instant. Such is the story at the center of the 90-minute two-hander tiny father, written by Mike Lew (Tiger Style!), and directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel at the Geffen Playhouse. Fun-loving Daniel (Maurice Williams) must choose between being just a biological parent or becoming a true father after his casual “friends with benefits” relationship results in the arrival of a delivered-at-26-weeks preemie baby girl now in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). To complicate matters, the mother didn’t want Daniel involved with the child in any way, given his real interest was in the benefits and not their friendship. But without having spoken to Daniel for months, or even given the baby a name, she dies after giving birth, leaving Daniel overloaded with more decisions to make than he seems capable of handling.

Caroline (Tiffany Villarin), a no-nonsense night nurse, is willing to listen to his concerns while training him in the overwhelming procedures which must be followed before the baby is well enough to be released. The new dad’s journey as he learns to navigate the protocols and frustrations of NICU life on his uncertain path to parenthood, as well as the nurse’s frustration with the lack of respect from her colleagues, proves that the spirit of human kindness is “measured in more than grams” in this heartfelt new play.

Williams and Villarin are to be commended for their total immersion into not only their characters but the massive ongoing dialogue packed with medical jargon and machinery usage, delivering each line with true dedication. But will their push/pull friendship survive once Daniel and his daughter leave the NICU?

You see, the two are at odds with each other as Daniel begins to question Caroline’s care choices, which he feels has delayed his daughter’s ability to go home as soon as possible. When Caroline questions Daniel, a Black man, about the racial background of the baby’s mother after she passes away, he is shocked but reveals she was Japanese. This leads to a discussion about racial differences within the field of medical care which will open your eyes to the astounding factual differences in childbirth deaths among women of color. It made me root for Daniel to succeed no matter the challenges being faced, as well as for Caroline to finally being put back on the day shift to ease the pressure her husband faces while she works at night. Inequities based on race and gender are handled with deep-seated understanding and sympathy by playwright Lew, whose own daughter spent four months in the NICU in 2019.

Thanks to scenic designer David Meyer, another star of the production is the rotating stage upon which the NICU unit is set. As it turns, a countdown of passing dates spent in the NICU is projected as the many members of the stage crew refurbish set pieces and machinery. It also gives the actors offstage opportunities to change costumes designed by Tilly Grimes, with von Stuelpnagel keeping the action moving at a quick pace without making the scene changes feel rushed. Sound design by UptownWorks (Noel Nichols, Bailey Trierweiler & Daniela Hart) effectively adds the sounds of a real NICU unit, with attention-focusing lighting designed by Pablo Santiago.

Daniel’s journey from a carefree young man into being a responsible single parent is a true slice-of-life play that weaves a tale of friendship on both personal and professional levels.

photos by Jeff Lorch
poster photo by Justin Bettman

tiny father
Geffen Playhouse, 10866 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood
Wed-Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on July 14, 2024
for tickets (starting at $39), call 310.208.5454 or visit Geffen Playhouse

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John July 2, 2024 at 11:27 am

Thanks to the rotating stage this show went nowhere but in circles. The actors give it the old collage try but if it ain’t on the page it ain’t on the stage.


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