"Tiny Beautiful Things" is a story about truly listening and understanding others. The play uses adult language and addresses sensitive topics such as physical/sexual abuse and mortality and is not appropriate for children.
The University of South Carolina Department of Theatre and Dance will present the poignant drama Tiny Beautiful Things, based on the best-selling book by Cheryl Strayed, November 12-19 at Longstreet Theatre.
Show time is at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with additional 3 p.m. matinee performances on Saturday, November 13 and Sunday, November 14. Admission is $15 for students, $20 for UofSC faculty/staff, military, and seniors 60+, and $22 for the public. Tickets may be purchased online at sc.universitytickets.com. Longstreet Theatre is located at 1300 Greene St. Enter from the rear breezeway off Sumter St. In keeping with university safety protocols, masks will be required of all audience members, actors and crew, and seating will be limited to allow for appropriate social distancing between all patrons.
When she was a struggling writer, author Cheryl Strayed (Wild) spent several years penning an advice column under the alias “Sugar,” in which she offered up truths on everything from dating to family dysfunction to profound loss. Strayed collected many of her articles into a best-selling book, which was adapted for the stage in 2016 by Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Tiny Beautiful Things presents Sugar’s unflinching and highly personal takes on dilemmas big and small, in the process giving audiences an uplifting experience that The New York Times described as “a sustained theatrical exercise in empathy.”
The theatre program has enlisted professional theatre artist and educator Maureen Heffernan as a guest director for the production. Heffernan brings a lifetime of experience as the director of over ninety productions at professional theatres around the country, as well as being Artistic Director of such institutions as New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse, Delaware Theatre Company and Young Audiences New Jersey. She is currently on the faculty at The College of New Jersey and is part of the artistic ensemble of Florida Repertory Theatre, where she has had fruitful collaborations with UofSC theatre professor Jim Hunter in his capacity as scenic and lighting designer.
“Often when we think about advice columns, we think about newspapers,” says Heffernan about the business Sugar becomes entrenched in. “However, it’s a rich world on the internet and that’s the one she enters into.” The “Dear Sugar” column appeared on the website therumpus.net from 2008 until 2012; Strayed took over the “Sugar” handle in 2010.
That “digital connection,” as Heffernan refers to it, between Sugar and those who sought her help, is what the theatre audience gets to experience in the production. Working with graduate student designers Karl Dickey and Ashley Jensen (scenic) and Lawrence Ware (lighting), Heffernan has crafted an environment that allows the viewer to step into both Sugar’s “real” world and the distant electronic landscape of the internet. It’s a divide Heffernan says is especially pertinent in our pandemic-affected times.
“In some ways, this play is more relevant [now] because so many times we have had to reach out to those anonymous sources, through our devices, to get help. It’s the idea that there is a place where I don’t see you, but I am telling you my most intimate stories.”
An ensemble of four actors portrays the myriad letter writers in the production, taking audiences on a journey that covers a diverse set of issues ranging from the silly and benign to the troubling and tragic. Through it all, both Sugar and the audience get the opportunity to listen, reflect and learn.
“You have this person who takes this position as somewhat of an adventure,” says Heffernan, “and then realizes the investment that people are making in her. In this, she does a re-examination of her own life and comes to, as Oprah would say, the ‘what I know for sure’ moment.”
“The audience,” Heffernan adds, “goes on the journey with both sides. At one and the same time, we’re a fly on the wall but also hooked into what’s going to happen, and I think that’s the charm of the play. It’s a little like being in a support group where one shows up to hear other people’s stories.”
Cast in the production are theatre and psychology major Jennifer Lucas O’Briant as Sugar, with the letter writers portrayed by students David Alexander, Shakori Jennings-Shuler, Constanza Pinela, and Alec Thorn. Joining the aforementioned scenic and lighting designers are instructor Chelsea Retalic (costume) and guest artist Danielle Wilson (sound).
The effect of the play on audiences has been documented as both a “handkerchief-soaking meditation” (The New York Times) and “a theatrical hug in turbulent times” (Variety). For Heffernan, it all comes down to being reminded of the power of simply listening.
“I hope people take away from this show that everything in our life prepares us for the next thing in our life,” she says. “We have great wisdom within ourselves, and our collective wisdom is often more powerful than we give it credit for.”
“In a time when so much pettiness divides us, there is a place that is love, and it’s the one true thing we can find – one human to another.”
For more information on Tiny Beautiful Things or the theatre program at the University of South Carolina, contact Kevin Bush by phone at 803-777-9353 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.