A few years ago a signed copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things randomly arrived in the mail from my friend Sally who owns Broadway Books in Portland, Oregon. Sally and I have a long history over books. We met on a college campus as textbook sales competitors in Oregon – she was the seasoned and wise manager for Prentice Hall to my plucky and gadfly McGraw Hill self. Apparently she appreciated my spunk as she recruited me to join her organization some 3 months later. This was a clutch maneuver for me, my career, and ensuing life path and I have Sally to thank for it. Thank you Sally.
Years passed and Sally moved on from selling educational textbooks to selling curl up on the couch books. I reached out to get her advice on how to best host an author reading, as bookstore owners are want to do. She generously bestowed lots of useful knowledge and we joked about how much cooler it is for her current author contacts to be the likes of Cheryl Strayed vs. the chemistry authors of our past (no offense chemistry authors – love you guys). It was this exchange that must have prompted Sally to get Cheryl to sign this book for me. What a delightful surprise to have this treasure arrive in the mail! Sally had once again infiltrated my life.
Tiny Beautiful Things was my go to gift for a year. It lived next to my bed. It is not an easy read. It is shocking, brave, raw and remarkable what people will anonymously reveal of themselves and in turn what Cheryl, as Sugar, revealed of herself in answering their often painful queries. I wanted to write a letter to her just so she would write me back, call me sweet pea and articulate a path for me with her always artfully chosen words, but I am afraid I am not that brave.
Brave is how I would characterize the performance of Tiny Beautiful Things at the Public Theater. With no real costumes to hide behind and a deliberately shabby 70’s stage set, these actors had nothing but words, each other, and some household knick knacks to use as tools. Each actor had to choke out some pretty tough, heart wrenching, and at times, unimaginable dialogue. Nia Vardalos, as Sugar, nailed the punched in the gut feeling Cheryl must have felt when these aching emails arrived in her inbox. Such a responsibility… to offer words of hope, love, and truth to a faceless individual. It would be so easy to crumble in the face of all of these mired experiences and curl into a defeated ball on the couch but Cheryl, as Sugar, rises to the occasion.
Through Nia’s Cheryl Strayed, on stage more so then ever came across in the book, I could feel the weight of this brave, lonely, alternately soul sucking and soul affirming, but ultimately cathartic exchange. And – feeling – is the point of the theater, right? We go sit side-by-side in the dark to feel things we might not otherwise experience during our day to day lives. We go to the theater to get perspective and to emerge enlightened and perhaps a slightly better person than who we were when we walked in.
We were lucky to have attended the show the night there was a Talk Back with the 4 actors after the performance. In answer to one theater goers question, the actors responded that they felt that being in the show and their interactions with Cheryl Strayed made them better people – more empathetic and better listeners. What a gift!! What a tiny, but beautiful thing!! And if just a tiny bit of that can rub off on you when you see this show… then I say go. It is not an easy night at the theater, but it is a worthy night at the theater. Grab your group and go.