October 6, 2022
Love, loss, resentment, disconnection – these universal themes are explored and addressed by an advice columnist in “Tiny Beautiful Things,” the first play in Saginaw Valley State University’s 2022-2023 season.
Based on Cheryl Strayed’s book of the same name, and adapted for stage by Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), “Things” shows the audience the struggles of everyday people who write to and advice columnist.
Lexie Schultz, a music and theatre double major from Saginaw, plays “Sugar,” Strayed’s alter ego for the 10-plus years she wrote the “Dear Sugar” column in The Rumpus, an online literary and culture magazine.
Strayed was a struggling writer and mother when she was asked to take over the column in an unpaid position. Under the cloak of anonymity, Strayed drew upon her own life experiences to give advice to thousands of people struggling to make sense of events in their lives.
“The play is basically a compilation of a bunch of different letters that were sent into this column,” Schultz explained. “It’s so different from anything I’ve ever read before. It’s so openly honest and it really bares its soul.”
SVSU theatre professor Dave Rzeszutek, who is directing the show, agrees.
“I was drawn to the isolation that the stories told and how the writers were reaching out for a place in a community,” he said. “Coming out of the pandemic, this search for community seemed parallel to our current environment. I also love the honesty in the anonymous letters. We know these people, but we don’t openly talk about these topics. I appreciate that this storytelling is bold enough to pose challenging conversations.”
Dana Samalik, a secondary education major in theatre and communications from Essexville, plays one of the writers.
“I think what makes the show special and how it affects audiences is that it allows us to be vulnerable,” she said. “What I’ve been finding is that . . . it has helped me become more honest in the way I’ve acted and it helps portray an actual person on stage rather than just a character.”
In SVSU’s production, the letter writers are portrayed by three students: Samalik; Brielle Myles-Williams, a theatre/Spanish double major from Marlette; and Scout McCulloch, a secondary education major in theatre and communication from Port Huron.
Rzeszutek said the show presents some challenging opportunities for these letter writers.
“They play multiple characters that range in age and gender identification,” he said. “The script has multiple speeches across the board that require emotional commitment that is a wonderful challenge for actors.”
“This play is just really, really more intimate than any other play I’ve been involved with,” said Myles-Williams. “Being an actor, you have to be honest, but in this play, you have to be vulnerable. That really stands out.”
Rzeszutek wants the audience to know that the vulnerability is real.
“When the audience is watching the show, I hope they realize that the stories aren’t made up but are actual letters that were sent asking for advice on how to move forward,” he said. “We’re not alone in our thoughts.”
McCulloch said “Things” is different from other shows that she has been involved with.
“I’ve never read or been a part of a show that’s connected so deeply on a personal level for me,” she said. “One of the themes is being OK with being human. We all get broken at one point or another. There’s just something so sweet about being okay with being broken and being like, ‘Hey, I may not know what you’re feeling, but I’ve been broken before, too, and I’m here to help you though it.’”
Tiny Beautiful Things opened Wednesday and runs through Sunday, Oct. 9. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $15 and are available online anytime or at the box office two hours before showtime.
Note: Please be advised that “Tiny Beautiful Things” has strong language and discusses the themes of depression, drug abuse, sexual assault and physical abuse. The play is recommended for audiences age 13 and above.