Editor's note: The production of “Tiny Beautiful Things” discusses sensitive themes of physical and sexual abuse and death.
A series of vulnerable stories defined by human nature to help and heal is coming to USC through Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things.”
“Tiny Beautiful Things” originated from a novel by Cheryl Strayed about her time as an anonymous advice columnist for the column “Dear Sugar.” Strayed recorded her conversations with people experiencing raw, heart-wrenching stories in the novel, and it was eventually adapted into a play in 2016 by Nia Vardalos.
Jennifer Lucas O’Briant, a non-traditional third-year theater and psychology student at USC, said she feels the sensitive topics discussed in the play shouldn’t cause people to avoid the show. Rather, it should be celebrated.
“Even though we are disclosing that there are sensitive topics covered," O'Briant said, "(the play) covers those topics in a way that speaks about how to heal from those."
According to O'Briant, who is also a certified professional midwife, the experiences addressed and traumas uncovered teach the audience how to lend a hand to those suffering.
“You have a lot of complementing themes throughout the show. You have death and birth, and sadness and joy," O'Briant said. "(Strayed) tries to string a thread throughout all of those things to show that healing is not linear. It’s life revealing itself as these little lessons we are given."
According to director Maureen Heffernan, who has directed over 90 professional theater productions across the nation, the show brings out the humanity in everyone and is extremely relevant to today's world.
“The past two years have really pushed people to be even more aware of seeking help online,” Heffernan said. “It makes us understand just how intimate we can be with people we haven’t met, you know, when we seek a similar community.”
Heffernan connected the show to the COVID-19 pandemic and how people have had to become more connected through the internet.
“We find ourselves perhaps able to write things in an email that we might never say in person, and it can often make us better and stronger; wiser,” Heffernan said.
This is a concept pivotal to the story, as Strayed had to console and advise people through email exchanges online.
In the production, the costuming was meant to make the characters seem real, according to Chelsea Retalic, interim costume shop manager at USC. She said she tried to coordinate costumes based on everyday character archetypes, such as the businessman or a woman on the street.
“I just wanted these people to look like normal people,” Retalic said. “You’ve got just anyone really, and everyone has their own issues. You don’t know it until they tell you about them.”
Retalic also said she tried to keep color schemes consistent with columnist Sugar compared to the letter writers. Sugar has warmer tones attached to her character while the letter writers have cooler tones, possibly indicative of their trauma and sadness. Costuming did its best to portray normalcy but allowed the audience read between the lines to see where the characters are coming from.
“I just think the overall message is that everyone has their struggles and is always seeking help and advice, and no one is alone in their struggles,” Retalic said. “We really wanted to portray that these are everyday people with really big problems, and the other people in the audience, maybe, who are dealing with the same problems aren’t alone.”
"Tiny Beautiful Things" is playing in the Longstreet Theatre through Nov. 19. Student tickets are $15.