You may think you don’t know what a “manic pixie dream girl” is — that’s the title of Katie May’s new play, a PlayGround-commissioned world premiere at the tiny Costume Shop — but you do. Think Annie Hall. Think Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Think Zooey Deschanel. Apparently the term was coined by a film critic.
As explained during the course of this short, crisp and devilishly entertaining comedy, it refers to the generically adorable, free-spirited girl-woman who shows up in movies to rescue the brooding, troubled male and teach him about the joys of life.
In May’s inventive approach, and under Jon Tracy’s reliably punchy direction, the familiar story is told in a quasi-graphic-novel style, acted out realistically yet with pow-kazam comic book flourishes.
Thanks to this excellent cast, Tracy’s panache and Rob Dario’s projected illustrations on a vertical screen on the small stage, May’s concept works.
Our narrator, struggling graphic artist Tallman (a wide-eyed, likable Joshua Roberts in hoodie and sneakers), is indeed in trouble. His girlfriend and muse (a tough-as-nails Liz Anderson) recently dumped him, so now he has artist’s block.
He’s about to be evicted from his apartment for being in arrears with the rent; the evil new landlord is his ex’s new boyfriend (Lucas Hatton, hilarious in several roles). Tallman’s caustic best friend, Porter (Michael Barrett Austin), does little but berate him for his loser lifestyle (“You’re John Cusack in ‘High Fidelity’!”).
So when he meets a beautiful, playful young woman (equally wide-eyed, vulnerable Lyndsy Kail) in his neighborhood pub, he sees her as a lifeline.
No matter that she doesn’t speak, or that she obsessively hordes Starburst candy wrappers, or that she’s very oddly dressed (costumes by Antonia Gunnarson).
No matter that her entire existence is a mystery. She smells like fresh laundry, she’s his new muse, and he’s back at work and feeling good.
“Liking the way she makes you feel is not like liking an actual person!” says a disgusted Porter.
May’s sketchy scenario leads to a bittersweet ending that solves Tallman’s immediate problems without digging deep into the psychology that led him into this weird romance in the first place. On that level, it’s a bit frustrating.
But “Manic Pixie” is a charmer that succeeds on its own terms, and it augurs well for future offerings by the talented playwright.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Presented by PlayGround and Manic Pixie Productions
- Where: Costume Shop, 1117 Market St., S.F.
- When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays; extended through Feb. 17
- Tickets: $25 to $35
- Contact: (415) 799-8350, www.manicpixiedreamgirl.org