Manic Pixie Dream Girl. In popular culture, the young female character who cures the despondent male protagonist of his sadness through her sheer quirkiness. Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer, Natalie Portman in Garden State, the list goes on. Manic Pixies are kind of a problematic trope that feeds into the Nice Guy/Friendzone ethos of modern masculinity. They rarely grow as characters, and as a result, neither do their protagonist counterparts. Harold and Maude, however, is an exception.
2nd Story’s production of Harold and Maude is the most fun you can have with existentialism this summer. Kevin Broccoli has put together a charming, dare I say fun, production of this cult classic. We’re back to the round Upstairs at 2nd Story, and the staging is effective. Five blocks that double as prop storage comprise the set with two doorways at either end. It’s spare, but the ’60s floral patterns that adorn the floor make the space feel full. There’s some nice visual gags (actually, like, several in the first 15 minutes) and some undeniable theatrical magic.
Harold and Maude, for those of you without Netflix, is about a depressed young man stuck in a routine of attending funerals and staging his own elaborate suicides. He meets a quirky girl who’s into painting and the occasional grand theft. She’s free, she’s vibrant, she’s almost 80 years old. Harold’s mother tries desperately to set him up with a girl, but alas, Maude steals Harold’s heart and before it’s over, Harold learns there’s more to living than just death. It’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl story.
As Maude, Isabel O’Donnell delivers a kick of energy to every scene. She was eccentric and bubbly, and she completely lived up to the role. Likewise, Evan Kinnane caught the tone of his character well, and had that introspective, tortured artist vibe you want with Harold. Val Westgate had incredible cameos as Harold’s various dates, consistently hilarious three entrances in a row. Paula Faber as Mrs. Chasen, of course, conveys nicely that she doesn’t give a shit about her son Harold’s happiness.
Tech was up to spec. In particular, a great ambient floating light cue added an extra punch to a scene in which Maude explains the majesty of the stars. There was a collective ‘Ooh’ from the audience. Ditto to a more practical cue that revealed hidden Christmas lights woven into the lightboard during Harold’s last date with Maude.
The costumes in the show were out of control and that’s a shout out to Ron Cesario for doing the shit out of his job. If you like hats and shoes and pins and eclectic Brady Bunch era clothing, Harold and Maude is worth seeing for the costume design alone.
This play isn’t going to change your life, but it’s nonetheless a worthwhile theatrical experience. One thing about staging in the round is that you, as the audience, can clearly see the people sitting across from you. And there were abundant smiling faces at Harold and Maude … except for one kid with his headphones in for the whole show. Which is a shame because this show was basically about him and all the angry loner teenage boys of the world. And looking around the audience, there was no shortage of sultry senior Manic Pixie Dream Girls to pick from.