Review: ‘How to Date a Manic Pixie Dream Girl’

 Photo Courtesy of Smith College Dep. of Theatre ||  Recent play by Lyssandra Norton satirizes the manic pixie dream girl trope.

 Photo Courtesy of Smith College Dep. of Theatre || Recent play by Lyssandra Norton satirizes the manic pixie dream girl trope.

Patience Kayira ‘20
Assistant Arts Editor

If you have put yourself through “500 Days of Summer” or watched anything involving Zooey Deschanel, then you know what a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” is. The term, coined by film critic Nathan Rabin, is a trope. In the words of Lyssandra Norton MFA ’18, a “manic pixie dream girl is extremely quirky, plays the ukulele or a sport, and is weird as fuck.”

    Last Thursday, Norton presented her senior thesis play, “How to Date a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” The work follows the experience of Spencer, a heartbroken young man who is unsure of whether he can ever love again. Until, “he’s found the perfect girl [...] But does he really know her at all? Or is he just seeing her in pieces?” These are the real questions.

    Although the plot revolves around Spencer and his manic pixie girlfriend, the play has five different characters. Spencer played by Miranda Catsambas’ 19, Grace played by Susannah Davis ’18, Delilah played by Gabby Manna’ 20, Paisley played by Sarah Gruber ’19 and Mia played by Rosemary Ewing ’19. In short Spencer is in love with one person, who has four distinct personalities. Sarah Lloyd Slifkin ’19 also narrated the piece.

    When the audience meets Spencer for the first time, he is sitting alone on a park bench brooding over his latest breakup. The four girls rush over to him, and in a movie-like manner they say in unison, “You dropped this.”

From this point onwards, the play becomes a love story where Spencer goes to a poetry slam with the girl, her apartment, a graveyard and eventually on an indie road trip.

    The play features a very millennial-friendly storyline. It includes references to Vine, underemployment, avocado toast, mid-2000s Facebook and white cis male privilege. The dialogue too was a riot. It left me wanting to laugh and uncomfortable from its innumerable clichés and truthful statements.

    At one point, Paisley, one of the manic pixie dream girls, shares a poem on the danger of having a young woman’s body in today’s society. She begins by saying, “I am androgynous” and ends the poem with “In our society, it is safer to look like a 19-year-old boy than a 23-year-old girl.”

    Themes of social justice continued throughout the play’s dialogue. Shortly after the poetry slam, Spencer goes to Delilah’s apartment where they engage in a conversation about gender. Spencer becomes slightly irritated with Delilah’s frequent mentions about the gender binary.

    He says to her, “You’re a girl.”

    And she replies, “Vaguely speaking. I wish gender didn’t exist [...]I’m perceived as a girl.”

    Later in this scene, Delilah mentions that her identity is intersectional with 12 different minority groups. She then tells Spencer that he is, “straight, white and “normal.”  To which he replies, “Thank you for telling me.” She ends with, “For calling you out on your privilege?”

    Towards the end, Norton challenges the representation of the manic pixie dream girl.

In an article for Bustle, writer Anna Klassen addresses the overlying issue with this trope. She writes, “It has brought to light, the problems surrounding male writers and directors crafting stories that only cater to fulfill the fantasies of cis white males.”

    Norton responds to this tradition by having all four girls, Delilah, Mia, Paisley and Grace tell Spencer that “[they] [are] the protagonists of their own stories. Not supporting characters [of] [his] story.”

    Even though Norton’s thesis satirizes the manic pixie dream girl trope, there are certain scenes that still support the role’s stereotypical use. For example in one bedroom scene, one of the girls encourages Spencer to “be forceful” and “rough.” In the context of her character, this is a joke, but in the context of 2018, this really isn’t funny.

In addition, the final scene, reveals the disheartening purpose the manic pixie dream girl serves — to give a disheartened man purpose in his life. Spencer argues with one of the four girls in a hospital room. She insists that he signs the consent of release form, but Spencer refuses. Instead he says, “I can fix you.” In this prolonged breakup scene, Spencer does not sign the release form. And the manic pixie dream girls stay in the hospital.

    For me, I did not find this fair. While the play did end with the four girls saying, “We are not your manic pixie dream girl. We are not complicated or damaged. We are changing, growing and trying,” the image of girls trapped in a hospital could not leave my mind.

Overall, the Theatre Department’s New Play Reading Series incorporating “How to Date a Manic Pixie Dream Girl” is a thoughtful play. Lyssandra Norton does good job of presenting and criticizing the issues within millennial culture.