Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope Given A Makeover By NYC-Based Playwrights

Playwrights and actresses Miranda Renee (L) and Maya Shoham (R)

Natalie Portman. Zooey Deschanel. Kirsten Dunst. What do these actresses have in common? They have all starred in films where they inhabit a type of character best described as a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, a term coined by film critic Nathan Rabin after observing Kirsten Dunst‘s character in the 2005 film ‘Elizabethtown’, said that the MPDG “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures”.

As Wikipedia describes, “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl…seems to exist only to provide spiritual or mystical help to the protagonist. The MPDG has no discernible inner life. Instead, her central purpose is to provide the protagonist with important life lessons.”

If you’re reading this and thinking, “but what about HER agency and HER purpose?” you are not alone. In fact, we’d even place a bet that this early 2000’s trope-y character would not pass today’s strong feminist leanings that are more common. While she was meant to be admired, there are some who believe the MPDG trope needs to be dissected and dismantled.

Enter NYC playwrights and actresses Maya Shoham, an Israeli/Australian actress, writer and producer, and Miranda Renee, an American/British actress, writer, and director based in New York City who created a one act production doing exactly this.

Playwrights and actressed Miranda Renee (L) and Maya Shoham (R)

Titled ‘The Ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl Speed-Dating Competition’, the play follows two whimsically quirky & mysterious girls, Felicity Meadows (Renée) and Remy Rivers (Shoham), who have been magically teleported into a stale white waiting room. Where are they? Why are they here? Their questions are soon answered as they are thrown into a life-changing competition, created by the one they least expected.

A depressed guy is looking for his own MPDG to turn his life around. In the play, that guy is…. God. He sparks a competition between the two best MPDGs he could find to determine who’s the real deal. But at the end, he unfortunately realizes they’re just… humans.

As Maya shared with us, she and Miranda find the trope offensive, and it became personal to her after being called a MPDG ever since she hit puberty. Writing this play became the perfect release of all these projections men had on Maya and Miranda in the past.

‘The Ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl Speed-Dating Competition’ debuted off-Broadway in April, as it was recently selected for The Lighthouse Series Competition at SoHo Playhouse – a competition created to showcase the best new talent and writers across the New York City area. 

We had the opportunity to chat with Maya and Miranda just after their initial run, to learn more about the play, why the MPDG needs to go away, and what kind of character they would replace her with.

How did you both meet and what plays/topics/issues did you bond over?

MR: Maya and I met in August of 2020, during zoom orientation for acting school. I had just moved to New York less than a week prior and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. One of the first things I remember us talking about was the humiliating and wild roles we had played in our respective high schools. Maya had to play a sex-addict, I had to play a weird sexy dog.

It was so clear from the jump that we were equally passionate about creating good art- and would do whatever it takes, no matter how wild or out-there. We also tend to be brutally honest and bad at hiding our facial reactions, so writing together was easy. If something wasn’t funny? We’d let each other know. It’s that level of communication, honesty, and care for each other (and the work) that made the writing process such a unique exciting experience for me.

MS: We were in-between classes sitting in the common area at school. Miranda asked me for the time, pointing at the watch I was wearing. I answered: ‘I don’t know – my watch doesn’t work’. She asked why I was wearing a broken watch, to which I responded with the most sarcastic voice I could come up with: ‘Because I don’t believe in time, I think time is a concept.’ Miranda then one-upped me with something along the lines of: ‘Oh for me, if I need to know the time, I just go outside and look at the sun.’

There were a few more of these exchanges before we thought – wow, this is really funny – two Manic Pixie Dream Girls fighting to see which one is more of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. That’s where the idea was born.

How did you come up with storyline for The Ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl Speed-Dating Competition’ and what was the inspiration you drew from?

MR: The big inspiration was, of course, movies. 500 Days of Summer, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Garden State, Elizabethtown, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, are all big players in the MPDG epidemic. However, when I started digging and doing research, I found some amazing commentary on the trope.

One piece that really inspired me is the poem “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” by Olivia Gatwood. I played it for the cast on the first day of rehearsal, and feel that that piece really formed the way I went about writing, directing, and acting in this. I even attached it in our submission to The Lighthouse Series, labeling it ‘inspiration.’ “Manic Pixie Dream Girl doesn’t go on, there’s no need for her anymore. Manic Pixie Dream Girl is too dream girl, and you just woke up.” I think about that line all the time.

Another reference I drew inspiration from was an essay I found entitled “Manic Pixie Dream Politics: A Focus on Postfeminist Muses.” This dived into the way that the trope has affected the way the masses view and treat female politicians and the wives of politicians. The MPDG trope goes so much deeper than just the quirky girls you see on a screen and stop thinking about when the movie finishes. It also goes hand-in-hand with the Madonna-Whore Complex, something Maya and I discussed and incorporated into the background of the piece.

The process of writing, creating and staging a play is no easy feat! What was this process like for you both?

MR: It was wild! We had just over two weeks of rehearsal before opening night, and were having to build this entire show from scratch, practically on our own (which neither of us had ever done.) It started with recruiting people we knew we could count on. Charlie Lockwood, one of my best friends from school, was our sound coordinator, and with the help of his friend Jordan Strickland, they were able to create sound and music that surpassed anything I could’ve ever imagined.

We have an entirely original score, which they completed in 2 weeks (I cannot express how amazing these two men are at what they do.) They turned my completely wacky vision that I couldn’t even fully conceptualize into a reality. All that was left was to cast the big man himself, the one hosting the entire competition, which Maya and I were definitely wary about.

This could make or break the show. Enter Raphael M. Berglas (Raph). The moment Maya and I watched his tape we knew he was the man for the job. Our little motley crew was complete, and it was exactly what we needed.

MS: I had co-written projects before, but there was something different in this process with Miranda. We would sit at cafes and simply record ourselves improvising. The subject was so close to home for us, that the words (as ridiculous as they might be) were just oozing out of us. We were bouncing off each other’s ideas and thoughts, which resulted in a script that’s completely ours. Every idea, every line, was a combination of the both of us. “I was on my way to a candle-lit bassoon concert…” (my words) “…in someone’s treehouse” (Miranda’s). “I like the sound feet make when they do an Irish jig…” (Miranda) “…and the smell of a freshly shaved puppy” (me).

MR: As far as the directing process, I would go to cafes (we clearly love cafes) and sit alone for hours; drawing up rough sketches of staging, trying to learn how to use Qlab, and building an interactive game show to be projected behind us. I’m quite the perfectionist, and I’m a very visual person, so, as a director, I’m a big fan of using mirrors during the creative building process.

I incorporated quite a few moments of synchronicity between Maya and I’s characters throughout the show, so I planned rehearsals where we’d sit next to each other in front of a mirror and just watch how the other moves. Our two characters are the complete antithesis of each other, and yet, they look and sound the exact same to our brooding leading man. I wanted the audience to sit back and take that point of view too.

Being the director, and one of the only two characters onstage, I’m not able to see the show from the perspective that most directors would- from the audience. I just have to trust that what I pictured in my head looks how I think it does, and that Maya is doing what I asked her to. And she always is.

‘The Ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl Speed-Dating Competition’ cast Miranda Renee (L), Raphael M. Berglas (C), and Maya Shoham (R)

How did you get selected for The Lighthouse Series, and what is the competition all about?

MR: Let me pull up the texts really quick:



This is it.

That’s perfect for us.

Fucking Off-Broadway, Deadline March 15th.

What do you say about powering through and meeting both Tuesday and Thursday?”

These were texts sent to me by Maya on March 4th, 11 days before the submission due date. At this point we had written maybe half the play, and this was exactly what we needed to kick out butts into gear and finish it.

The Lighthouse Series is a competition that was created to showcase the best new talent and writers across the New York City area. The criteria; submit a play less than 30 minutes. That’s it. The pieces chosen each then get their own 3 day Off-Broadway run at the historic SoHo Playhouse theatre in New York City.

For those who may not be familiar with late 90s/early 00s films, can you break down what the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype is and why it became so Popular?

Manic Pixie Dream Girl noun (especially in film) a type of female character depicted as vivacious, mysterious, and appealingly quirky, whose main purpose is to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries.”

MS: These characters were clearly written by men, for men. They are a type of an ideal woman – examined through the male gaze. Zach Braff, said about the film Garden State (2004), that he wrote and directed, “as I was writing it, I was hoping I could survive what became known as the quarter-life crisis, and depression, and fantasizing that the perfect woman would come along and rescue me.”

Rescuing the man from his own trouble was the Manic Pixie Dream Girls’ only purpose in the narrative. We think the popularity came from men wanting this woman in their lives, and women wanting to be wanted. Nobody questioned this until recently, the true idea behind it – what this trope was really standing for.

Actress and playwright Maya Shoham

Your play positions the MPDG trope as offensive, instead of aspirational. Can you share more about this, and why this perspective needs to be shared?

MS: I wanted to be a MPDG when I was younger. Their appeal is evident, they’re unique and stand out, and all their quirks don’t make them weird, but attractive. But Manic Pixie Dream Girls are only a projection of a man’s ideal woman. MPDGs are not real. There isn’t any depth or character to them beyond what men see in them. “I asked her where she’s from, she said, ‘Around’, as if someone told her that’s what made women irresistible, being from nowhere and standing for nothing.” (From the show Girls, Season 6, Episode 3) We are from somewhere. We stand for some things. We are real.

MR: Growing up, especially post puberty, I was compared to the MPDG trope by countless boys. I was just a weird kid. I didn’t really fit anywhere, and for a long time just didn’t care. I honestly thought the term was a compliment. “Oh you think I’m quirky and funny? Thank you!!” I remember years ago having a conversation with someone I was dating at the time and jokingly saying “jeez, it feels like you don’t know anything about me. I should make a Miranda quiz for you.” He shot back “No, don’t do that, because I’ll get them all wrong and then you’ll get mad at me.”

Yes…yes, I will get mad if you don’t know my middle name or where I was born. Who are you in love with? Because clearly…it isn’t me. That felt like a turning point in not only the way I viewed myself, but the way I allowed other people to view me. I felt embarrassed, I felt misunderstood, I felt like I never wanted to tell anyone anything about me ever again, because did it even matter? They clearly weren’t listening anyway.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope perpetuates this notion that women are to be won and to be used, not to be understood. It’s a dynamic that’s ingrained in girls at such a young age. I dare you to name one fact about Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. No, not that she dyes her hair. No, not that she has 7 evil exes. Something really about her. Yeah. I can’t either.

Actress and playwright Miranda Renee

The idea of stories about women, and female characters being written from the male gaze is being heavily examined these days. What do you hope your play will contribute to this ongoing conversation?

MR: I think we add an entirely new perspective. The basis of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that she is (unknowingly) solely there to progress the storyline of the male protagonist. In ours, the man is not the lead. The man is never even seen. The man is a voice. An all-encompassing voice, a voice women will hear and say “Oh my God, I know a guy who acts just like that.”

And while our MPDGS are certainly quirky and eccentric, at the end it is clear that they are real, flawed people. It is so purposefully written that throughout the piece, the audience is laughing at the two girls, not with them. For the girls, this is not funny at all. This is life or death. And near the end of the play, something unexpected and intense happens onstage, and the audience is exposed to the two in a whole new light. They’re confronted with the fact that all of the ‘crazy things’ they just spent the last 20 minutes laughing at, are actually…not funny at all.

After the show, two girls stopped Maya and told her about how they are “newly reformed Manic Pixie Dream Girls.” They dove into how easy it was to cater to this trope in real life, without realizing they were neglecting pieces of themselves. One woman told me afterwards that she found it so so funny while watching, but after it was done she couldn’t shake this weird uncomfy feeling as she slowly began realizing the amount of times she had said similar things to men, not realizing she was playing into a fantasy.

These reactions were our goal from the jump. We want you to laugh, we want you to have a good time. But we want you to leave reflecting deeper, thinking about your own life. Do you relate to one of the girls? Do you relate to the man? Do you relate to none of them? All of them? Why is that?

If your play were to inspire a rewrite of the MPDG, or a whole new character, what do you hope it would be?

MS: Since a Manic Pixie Dream Girl doesn’t really exist, I would want the rewrite of this trope to simply be- a real person. A real woman who’s from somewhere, a real woman who has hobbies, a real woman who’s not always free, a real woman who has her own purpose in life that has nothing to do with a man.

Where and when can people come and watch ‘The Ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl Speed-Dating Competition’?

MR: While we just closed our run at SoHo Playhouse, definitely stay tuned for the future of the piece. This is really just the beginning, and we cannot wait to bring this story to larger audiences and continue this discussion. In the meantime check out our instagram accounts @miranda___renee and @mayafeba and our websites, and to stay in the loop of all things “The Ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl Speed-Dating Competition!”

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