I blame Hollywood for my lack of faith in romantic comedies. I avoid them if I can help it, because there’s nothing remotely entertaining about watching two shallow yuppies do mean things to each other as they attempt to replicate human courtship, and in the process reinforce tired gender stereotypes (e.g. uptight career woman learns to love when she meets the right [or wrong] guy) or consumer aspirations (uptight career woman carries different It Bag in each scene and runs around in expensive sky-high heels). But romantic comedies of the local theater variety deserve to be given a chance, because I’d like to think that no one would spend so much effort and money producing a play that basically rehashes the same old Hollywood formula.
On Thursday afternoon, I found myself watching a technical dress rehearsal of Breakups and Breakdowns by Upstart Productions, an original musical that revolves around the dating experiences of four people. We’ve got two roommates – Mark, a budding playwright finishing a play about his failed relationship with graphic designer Nina, and Derek, a playboy with a penchant for wearing flamboyant shirts. Every night, Derek tries to convince Mark to stop moping in their apartment and get back in the game, but Mark is too obsessed about his play (and a little hung up on his ex) to return to dating. After a while, Derek gives up and heads out for a date with Sandy, a flirtatious yet unavailable girl whose aloofness is driving him crazy. Like someone who has read too many Cosmo dating tips, Sandy is only pretending to be uninterested, not just to reel Derek in, but because the last guy she dated thought she was too clingy and available.
A knock on the door interrupts Mark’s writing one stormy evening. It’s his ex-girlfriend Nina, who got caught in the storm and desperately needs a place to crash until the flood subsides. Derek is out on a date with Sandy, and the moment is right for an awkward reunion between the two exes. Are lingering feelings enough to bring Mark and Nina back together or are they better off as friends? Will Sandy stop playing her silly game and finally sleep with Derek? And man, don’t you just hate how awkward pauses keep peppering your first post-break-up conversation with the ex?
Breakups and Breakdowns illustrates the rise and fall of romantic relationships in an endearing manner, using characters that are humanly flawed but no less lovable. I say “humanly flawed” because they screw up in all the normal ways an adult can be expected to screw up in dating and relationships. This realistic portrayal of the characters makes the play successful at the cliched notion of “perfection”. Through the witty banter and cheerful music, the audience discovers that trying achieve “perfection” is a counter-productive exercise because you end up missing out on the good that’s in front of you. It’s good to have standards, of course, but the play reminds you that there is a fine line between high standards and setting unrealistic expectations. Like most 20-somethings, Mark and Nina are intent on chasing their careers, but were unable to find the right balance between meeting their career goals and maintaining their relationship. Mark feels under-appreciated because Nina can never make time for him, while Nina is constantly frustrated by Mark’s inflexibility and lofty goals. On the other hand, the carefree Derek seems the least likely to settle down but he does so in the end, not only because he could forgive Sandy for repeatedly standing him up but also because she was willing to overlook his garish ensembles.
The play isn’t entirely free of certain gender stereotypes, though. For instance, the success of Derek and Sandy’s relationship reinforces the idea that guys like the girls who play hard-to-get, and that those silly Cosmo dating tips do kind of work. But this is something that gets easily overshadowed by the play’s strengths – the witty dialogue, the enjoyable musical numbers (this coming from a girl who usually fast-forwards the song-and-dance parts of musicals if she can), and its realistic portrayal of relationships and dating. If Hollywood rom-coms were more like Breakups and Breakdowns, I wouldn’t despise the genre as much as I do now. Whether you’re newly single, in a steady relationship, or ready to leap back into the dating pool, this is a play that you should not miss.
Catch Breakups and Breakdowns at Teatrino, Greenhills on the following dates and times:
February 18 (8 pm)
February 19 (3 pm & 8 pm)
February 25 (8 pm)
February 26 (3 pm & 8 pm)
March 4 (8 pm)
March 5 (3 pm & 8 pm)
March 11 (8 pm)
March 12 (3 pm & 8 pm)
For more information on the production, visit http://upstartproductionsinc.com/.Google+