To understand what Katie May's play Manic Pixie Dream Girl is about, it's helpful to know what a manic pixie dream girl is. Coined by Onion A.V. Club critic Nathan Rabin, the term describes the cinematic trope of a free-spirited, oddball beauty who exists only to draw the brooding male protagonist out of his shell. Think Natalie Portman in Garden State, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Melanie Griffith in Something Wild, or Goldie Hawn and Zooey Deschanel in pretty much anything. If you don't know the type, it's explained at length in the play.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl was commissioned by PlayGround, a San Francisco company with a pool of writers that writes short plays about an assigned theme every month, a few of which are selected to develop into full-length plays. Staged at American Conservatory Theater's new Costume Shop Theater near Civic Center, MPDG's world premiere is co-produced by PlayGround with a handful of individuals, including the playwright and one of the actors.
One of the primary hooks of MPDG is that it's "a graphic novel play." The main character is a graphic novelist, although it's unclear whether he's ever actually published a graphic novel. He's a sometime painter in comic-book style who hasn't painted a thing since his girlfriend left him, and who only really took up painting to hook up with her in the first place. He's months behind in his rent because he keeps putting off a gallery show for which he spent the advance months ago. He is, in short, a loser.
Played by Joshua Roberts as a peevish, entitled layabout, Tallman isn't even a loveable loser. We first see him slapping his ex-girlfriend, and the whole rest of the play is his way of explaining the extenuating circumstances, because he insists he's not the kind of guy who slaps girls. He is, however, the kind of guy who shows up at his ex's office party drunk and uninvited, railing about what a corporate sellout she is. So of course when he meets a mysterious, non-verbal young woman who reacts with childlike wonder to everything she sees, he takes her home to be his live-in lover.