One of the benefits of writing for theater is that playwrights have a captive audience. Write a short play, produce it without intermission and the audience will have to sit tight for the entire show. Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a play that takes its time getting to the point, playing itself in a perfectly straightforward manner for half the show, but then it drops a massive paradigm shift that subverts one of Hollywood’s classic cliches, and shines a light on the disturbing undertones of feel-good romantic comedies.
The “Manic Pixie Dreamgirl” is a trope that appears in moves, TV shows and literature. She is a quirky free-spirited girl who suddenly appears in the life of an unsatisfied young man. With the help of his new love, he can solve all of his problems and live the life of adventure and romance that he feels he deserves. Happy endings ensue!
It’s usually an example of bad writing and shallow character development targeted at a very specific section of the male audience. This trope has been used in countless movies that are intended to be uplifting, but there are some very dark aspects to the idea of a woman who exists merely to help some random guy fix his problems.
The play Manic Pixie Dream Girl starts out by following the formula to the letter. In fact, audiences would be forgiven for spending the first half hour thinking that it is just a bad romantic comedy. However around the halfway mark it suddenly takes a turn and subverts the entire notion of the MPDG.
Tallman (Played by Joshua Roberts) is an unsuccessful artist who is unable to paint, nearly broke, and has lost his girlfriend Jackie (Liz Anderson) who was also his muse. Luckily for him it’s only a couple of scenes into the show before a mysterious, beautiful, quirky young woman enters his life. Jill (Lyndsy Kail) doesn’t speak, seems to eat nothing but candy, and her whimsical personality is just what Tallman needs for artistic inspiration.
Yay for him! But what about Jill?
The show eventually takes a look at the sort of woman who might function as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the real world. It isn’t quite as romantic as the movies make it seem, and the second half of Katie May’s script totally deconstructs the MPDG trope, along with the mindset of men who are hoping to meet their own pixie.
Because Tallman is an artist, much of the story is augmented with comic book style images that are projected on the upstage wall. The art by Rob Dario matches up cunningly with the action onstage, and this use of multimedia is exceptionally effective. It’s especially impressive because of little details in the action on stage are presented in the artwork as well.
There is an excellent cast involved, although supporting player Antonio Alvarez steals scenes as several characters, including a bullying alpha male, as well as a beef-witted bartender. Lyndsy Kail also manages to do a lot with her mute role.
Jon Tracy’s direction skillfully incorporates the tricky multimedia, but also ensures that there is constant business onstage; Lilly can often be seen quietly lounging upstage engaging in her free-spirited business while other characters are having heated scenes in the foreground.
It’s an excellent example of bait ‘n’ switch style of theatrics that challenges audiences to look at the unintended messages behind a commonly used brand of story-telling.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl has a single performance left in the NYC Fringe Festival, this Friday. Audiences looking for some keen destruction of seemingly harmless Hollywood tropes will enjoy it. Tickets and more information are available at www.manicpixiedreamgirl.org.