Theater review by Carey Purcell
Adapted from her book Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much, Faith Salie’s one-woman show chronicles the manifestations of what she describes as a never-ending need for validation. It seems appropriate, if somewhat ironic, that she’s telling this story to an applauding audience every night.
Salie proudly details her accomplishments: A straight-A student, she went on to earn a Master’s degree from Harvard and currently contributes to CBS Sunday Morning and guests on the NPR quiz show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! The challenges she faced while pursuing these achievements are worthy of an audience’s attention; those challenges, unfortunately, are not in clear focus in the show. In her 90-minute performance, Salie talks about her struggles with anorexia, her unhappy first marriage and the death of her mother, as well as the misogynistic online abuse she’s received throughout her career. Any or all of these experiences could make for a compelling story, but she only skims their surfaces. Her drive for perfection and need for approval are clear, but their deeper roots remain largely unexplored.
Salie’s success is a given: If she weren’t a public figure, her show wouldn’t have been written, let alone produced. But while she strives to seem relatable, much of her story is bubble-wrapped in privilege. She talks about her struggles with conceiving children without mentioning the financial burden of fertility treatments. Her weddings were held in lavish ceremonies in foreign countries, and we hear how beautiful her gowns were; she casually drops the name brands of the revenge outfit she wore to court when divorcing her husband.
Directed by Amanda Watkins, Salie’s performance is so polished, her jokes so precisely timed, that Approval Junkie resembles a TED Talk more than an intimate one-woman show. (Jack Magaw’s minimalistic scenic design and Amanda Zieve’s lighting, combined with costume designer Ivan Ingermann’s belted dark blue jumpsuit and sharp beige heels only enhance the professional atmosphere.) The evening is sprinkled with moments of real insight and honesty, but overall it seems less like a journey of self-acceptance than like a marketing seminar. As she takes her bows, you half-expect her to ask the audience to like and subscribe.
Approval Junkie. Minetta Lane Theatre (Off Broadway). By Faith Salie. Directed by Amanda Watkins. With Salie. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.