Self-help is big business. According to a recent study Americans spend 11 billion dollars a year figuring out how to improve themselves. For the most part, the advice that most books, seminars, and videos offer are laden with trite suggestions, syrupy psychobabble and plain old common sense. In many cases, they are written by people without a clinical background–people like Cheryl Strayed. When you have her life experience, however, you have all the credibility you need.
The best-selling author is the subject of Tiny Beautiful Things—currently back on the boards at the Public Theater. Adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos (best known for her hit film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding), the show returns to the largest house in the Public Theater Complex. It originally premiered in 2016, but tickets quickly sold out. It’s easy to understand why. Fewer shows have provided the emotional impact as this one. Due to popular demand, producers resurrected it. Originally slated to run through November, it has announced an extension through December 10th.
Tiny Beautiful Things is based on the book by the same title—a collection of Strayed’s advice column, “Dear Sugar.” For years, she responded to the many woes of her readers and responded under the pseudonym “Sugar.” Finally, in 2012, she revealed her identity.
Vardalos stars as Strayed in a subtle, but winning performance. One by one, her three remaining cast members ‘read’ letters as Sugar responds with incredible clarity and warmth. Their struggles cover body image issues, apathy, being stuck in bad relationships, a desire to cheat on reliable lovers, and even a parental loss of a child. There is a letter here for everyone sitting in the audience. For anyone who has ever lived life in all of of its glory and disappointment—this is a show for you.
Strayed’s lack of a mental health degree is irrelevant, for her own life provides enough merit to prove that she is the real deal. Her mom passed away when she was a college senior. Four years later, she endured a divorce. It led her to hike the Pacific Crest trail. Strayed chronicles the experience in her memoir, Wild.
In the wrong hands, Tiny Beautiful Things could easily have veered into treacly, sentimental schmaltz. Yet with such fine actors, a wise adaptation, and gentle direction by Thomas Kail (Hamilton), it is one long letter of hope, comfort, and reassurance. In short, it’s a handbook for life. You deserve to see it.
Tiny Beautiful Things runs through December 10th at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street). For tickets and information, visit Tiny Beautiful Things.