Review: Tiny Father Shows a Father’s Tenuous Relationship With Our Healthcare System

Mike Lew’s trenchant play now runs at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.

Maurice Williams stars in Mike Lew’s Tiny Father, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, at Geffen Playhouse.
(© Jeff Lorch)

Tiny Father engrosses its audience by focusing on the human aspects of our over-complicated medical industry. Instead of offering a soapbox speech, this West Coast premiere at the Geffen is a complicated, sensitive tale of two people trying to make the best of difficult circumstances.

Daniel (Maurice Williams) visits his infant daughter in a hospital’s NICU. He hadn’t been serious with her mother and had reacted badly when he found out he was going to be a dad. But now, due to complications, he’s the only family member left for this frail, ill child. A by-the-numbers nurse, Caroline (Tiffany Villarin), takes this reluctant parent through a draining process, as the baby, born three months early, clings to life.

Mike Lew’s script is a trenchant examination of fatherhood and the lack of resources in our healthcare system, emphasizing the underlying misogyny and racism that impedes progress and equality: We identify both with a health care professional, punished by the system for being a woman with children, and the young man whose whole world has changed in one night.

Caroline is happily married with children, so the already complex relationship between her and Daniel, and their devotion to one little child, stays strictly platonic. In early scenes, when Caroline uses medical jargon that flies over Daniel’s head, we identify with his confusion. As Daniel becomes more comfortable with the processes that keep his child alive, we are proud of his growth. The story keeps both characters’ isolation and frustration as a focal point so neither becomes the play’s antagonist.

Tiffany Villarin plays Caroline, and Maurice Williams plays Daniel in Mike Lew’s Tiny Father, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, at Geffen Playhouse.
(© Jeff Lorch)

Both actors make their roles feel authentic, rooted in backstory and past conflicts. Villarin captures many facets of Caroline’s personality: the warmth for her defenseless wards, the sarcasm she spews when feeling cornered, the demand for structure that keeps the NICU safe. She plays Caroline as a woman with few options —  sleep-deprived and missing much of her children’s development while working her shifts, someone with no outlet for simmering rage.

Williams emphases his character’s emerging connection to his little girl, taking his place as the child’s advocate even though he had no training or time to acclimate. As with his job, Daniel has been a freelancer in life, never building connections — not even with his future baby’s mother. Williams displays the fears, denial, and eventual love for one being as he never had before. Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel creates a tense relationship between the two that volleys understanding and miscommunication, even as the audience recognizes how hard both characters are trying.

The production design by David Meyer (scenic), Pablo Santiago (lighting), Tilly Grimes (costume) and the team of UptownWorks (sound) evokes the sterile unit with its glowing green and red lights, its disruptive beeping instruments, and the dehumanization represented by the curtains, machines, and life-saving cocoons.

There is a proverb that states that God/The Universe only gives you exactly what you can handle. Tiny Father puts that adage to the test by recognizing that just because you can survive, doesn’t mean it will be easy.

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Tiny Father

Closed: July 14, 2024