What it's about.
Tiny Beautiful Things is a play based on author Cheryl Strayed's novel of the same name. Revolving around letters written to an anonymous advice columnist for a column titled 'Dear Sugar' later discovered to be written by Strayed herself, the play presents some of the questions and responses through a series of vignettes - showcasing Cheryl's brutally candid and honest approach to very human issues.
My experience here was a confusing and challenging one. Going into the show, I knew a little bit about Cheryl Strayed and was familiar with her novel Wild and the movie of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon. I was hopeful that this production would offer a bit more into her life than what I previously knew.
The show starts off with Nia Vardalos taking stage as Cheryl, eventually taking on the job of writing for a column titled 'Dear Sugar' for zero pay. The idea of that confused me, because I knew that Cheryl Strayed was an author and didn't work any other job. The fact that she took the job for zero pay immediately pushed me into the headspace that I was afraid I would be in: Cheryl is clearly very privileged. And that thought did not go away for the rest of the show. And it didn't help that the casting presented three people of color getting advice from a white woman. I was not able to shake that feeling and it made me uncomfortable.
The one question that replayed in my head over and over again was "what qualifies her to give any advice to these people?" Some of the topics presented included transgenderism, miscarriages, death of a child, dating best friends and "what the fuck is life" questions that seemed all too relevant but not within Cheryl's line of expertise. Has Cheryl experienced any of these things? Was she "qualified" to answer them? Then it made me wonder. Is anyone qualified to give advice? Do we always have to experience things to empathize and offer our two cents? As each submission was presented and answered by her, I grew increasingly annoyed that 'Sugar' (aka Cheryl) seemed to think she had the answers to it all. That somehow, she found a way to pull something from her life that seemed to fit perfectly into the lives of others.
Now I ask myself, am I annoyed that she thinks she knows the answer to it all or am I annoyed that I'm watching a woman with clear white privilege give advice to three people of color onstage? As I looked around me, it was obvious that it was a mixture of both. I was surrounded by older white people, sobbing in their seats due to the intensity of each advice submission and I didn't feel even in the slightest bit moved. Instead, I felt manipulated. Not once in the entire two hours did I feel represented. Not once in any of her submissions - although they did try with one submission for "twenty-somethings" - did I feel seen. I thought to myself "either I haven't lived enough life yet or this show is NOT intended for me."
I almost thought I would leave the show not feeling anything but anger and annoyance. I was damn near close. But the last line of the show actually made me reflect. Cheryl starts talking about a time she refused a balloon from a child on the bus. When reflecting back on the experience, she says she refused to take it "because you'll believe you don't have the right to tiny beautiful things. You're wrong. You do. Love, Sugar." Damn Cheryl, you got me. I didn't think you would but you did. How often do we feel like we don't deserve good things, no matter how small? How often do we look back and think 'I missed out on that little bit of joy'? I have and I have often.
What this show did do was open my eyes to the unease I sometimes feel during a show and could never quite put my finger on. Sometimes, I'm not going to connect, relate or feel represented by a show I see. Sometimes, I'll walk out feeling "bleh". But, there's always a conversation to be had regardless and that's what makes it all worth it.
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