Student-written play to explore, develop the 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl'

By Anna Sadovskaya, Daily Fine Arts Editor
Published April 11, 2012

“I love the Smiths,” says Summer Finn as she looks at Tom Hansen’s iPod. That’s all it took for Tom to fall in love, and so began the real action of “500 Days of Summer,” a story about a brooding young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom), the sparkling, enigmatic Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and the pursuit of their intertwined happiness. Summer is aloof and free, a new and exciting adventure for Tom, and his idealization of her allows for Summer to become his Manic Pixie Dream Girl — a term coined by film critic Nathan Rabin to describe the unattainable and unattached female characters that exist solely for the purpose of helping the male protagonists seize the day and embrace their lives.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl


Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Walgreen Drama Center, Studio One
Free

Tomorrow, a new play disentangling this constructed persona will take the stage as School of Music, Theatre & Dance senior Emma Jeszke unveils her Plays-in-Process production of “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” which she wrote.

“I was introduced to the idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl through … Zooey Deschanel’s character,” Jeszke said. “They are female characters that are only present in movies to enhance or inform the emotional arc of the male protagonist. They’re cute, they’re quirky. The male protagonist falls in love with them, she breaks his heart, he has revelations about life, and as she disappears, we get to see him becoming a better person.”

Unlike the archetypal sub-character in movies, the dream girl in Jeszke’s play is a protagonist. Jeszke, a former Arts editor for The Michigan Daily, said that this allowed the play to transform from a typical romantic comedy, in which the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a supporting character with little background, to a lead character the audience can better understand.

“I incorporated aspects of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: She’s into art, she wants to be a writer, she’s trendy — all of these things that are surface Manic Pixie Dream Girl properties, but through the language and the structure of the play, we discover a lot more about her and what she wants,” Jeszke said.

Jeszke noted that she integrated the idea of “20-something syndrome”: the reluctance of recent college grads to settle down, thus staving off adulthood and responsibility. The four characters in “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” all live in the middle ground between teendom and adulthood, and this is where the show takes place. The play centers on Shea, the “Dream” girl in question: She’s a recent college grad living in New York City with her boyfriend Pete. As Pete’s friends Danny and Patrick come to visit the couple, the story begins to unfold and Shea’s pixie girl persona starts to unravel.

“As (Shea) meets and gets to know the two friends, who she feels much more understood by, she realizes she doesn’t have to be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, she is understood in the way she wants to be,” Jeszke said.

Throughout the play, characters pass Danny’s journal back and forth. Jeszke said this was a way for the characters to bond while allowing the audience members to get a better look into the minds of the leads.

“We realize that Shea has all these passions and drives and interests in the world that she can’t necessarily share with (the others) because they don’t understand,” Jeszke said.

“Her writing these things in the journal are happening simultaneously in the plot as Pete proposes to Shea and she reluctantly agrees,” Jeszke added. “We get this contrast of Pete trying to nail her down into this life she doesn’t want and her feeling almost comfortably unhappy and unsure of how to get what she wants.”

The characters, storylines and motives line up to tell the coming-of-age story of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and what it means to detract from stereotypes.

“The play takes you back and forth between very high, alive young people who are discovering themselves and then it pulls you back into these tragic moments of rejection and feeling misunderstood,” Jeszke said. “It’s representative of life for people who will soon be going through big changes, such as graduation and life afterwards.”