By Ron Fassler . . .

You have to admire the up-front title of Faith Salie’s one-person show in that it pulls no punches. Happily, Salie does not spend the full 90-minute running time seeking our approval, though she does admit to her dependency on forever wondering if she’s in the right place at the right time with the right people. A questioner by nature, she has had years to hone her insights and her messaging, most frequently as a contributor to CBS Sunday Morning broadcast, one of the best shows on television. She’s also lent her talents to the NPR game show Wait… Wait.. Don’t Tell Me, of which I am a big fan.

Solo shows are almost always someone telling another person’s story or their own. It takes a bit of ego to do that and the chance of succumbing to hubris is always lurking in the wings. You’re demanding an hour and a half of someone else’s time and self-doubt is, by the very nature of the beast, asking whether you’re worth it or not. While watching Approval Junkie, the expression “a little goes a long way” was on my mind a good bit of the time. Salie’s life is not an exceptional one. Her life experiences are relatable, but not singular in the sense of accomplishment. She’s a good person, is raising two children, and has had a modicum of success in what she has chosen to do in her life. This brings her considerably up short against such exemplars of this form as Anna Deavere Smith and John Leguizamo who dig deep and have profound things to say. That’s aiming for the top, to be sure. But aiming for the top is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Approval Junkie, like many shows at the Minetta Lane Theatre in the West Village, is a production brought by the people at Salie published her story as a book in 2017 and first presented this stage version at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in 2019 under the direction of Amanda Watkins, who collaborated with her on the text and repeats those duties here. Watkins does a nice job of staging the show smoothly, utilizing cartoons and images to jazz the proceedings up to strong effect.

Salie’s journey from beauty queen to Harvard undergrad to Rhodes scholar at Oxford to anorexic to journalist to mother provides laughs and some heartbreak, which is de riguer for a story like this. She gets off some good one-liners with regard to what she’s learned along the way, my favorite being “comparison is the thief of joy.” But in the end, she is not the type of personality that can draw an audience in and make them complicit in their tales. That takes a better actor, to which Salie refreshingly states early on might not be her strongest suit, even with professional credits in her resume. The biggest laugh I got was from this line in her Playbill bio about her cohorts during her time at Oxford who “became things like 2020 presidential candidates and Pulitzer Prize winners, while she went to Hollywood and landed on a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine collectible trading card worth hundreds of cents.”

There’s a Ted Talk aspect to the show even with the welcome addition of the animation and production elements that help in making the piece theatrical, but it’s a battle nonetheless and one that Salie doesn’t altogether win. And as much as I would like to give my wholehearted approval to Approval Junkie, it might be better enjoyed as the audio book it is rather than the stage production presented here.

Approval Junkie is currently at the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, NYC now through December 12th. Tickets at:

Photos by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Audible’s Minetta Lane Theatre’s Approval Junkie