PREVIEW: Breaking The Rules to Find Yourself

San Francisco Playhouse’s World Premiere play The Rules, tells the tale of three friends, Ana, Julia, and Mehr, who all fall in love with the same mysterious man. Inspired by the iconic dating how-to book of the nineties, The Rules, The Time Tested Secrets For Capturing The Heart of Mr. Right, the play navigates the world of love, friendship, and what it means to live “happily ever after” in a world where Mr. Right can swipe left.

The Rules is penned by Calcutta born, India/Russia/London bred, Dipika Guha. The idea was born after her discovery of the seminal dating guide which contained eyebrow raisers like Rule #2: Don’t Talk to a Man First (and Don’t Ask Him to Dance), and Rule #31: Don’t Discuss The Rules with Your Therapist, as well as some more sensible advice like Rule #23: Don’t Date a Married Man, and Rule #34: Love Only Those Who Love You.

Guha was intrigued when when she heard about a Rules Girl, “I was in graduate school when I first heard about it from a friend who talked about an American teaching in China who he described as a Rules Girl.”

After researching the book, Guha began to think about what it means to not only have rules on how to operate in society, but specifically how to land a man, and what that means for a woman’s sense of self. “Our culture feeds us messages about who we are, and who we’re supposed to be, more subliminally than the book does.”

Growing up in Calcutta, Guha encountered a much bigger divide in the societal roles of men and women.

“In India, women are much more disempowered in comparison to men, but it’s very complicated, because on top on of gender, we have class, and we have caste as well. I definitely grew up in a culture where there’s not just this huge economic disparity between men and women, but also the conditioning, and the expectations about women are very heavy, and very prescriptive in a lot of cases. My mother was always very careful to model the opposite with both me and my sister. She made it a point say these cultural systems are relative. When we moved to England, that became particularly apparent that it’s not the same everywhere in the world.”

In England, while men and women were considered equal Guha still felt the disparity.

“Women are not disempowered in that same kind of deep way, but I grew up in a culture where feminism was still dismissed in the sense that now we have the equality. In England, I developed a new skepticism on what is actually happening in our culture, and what are we not talking about. What’s happening is more subliminal than somewhere like India where it’s much more overt.”

Guha herself is not a strict proponent of following The Rules as outlined in Fein and Schneider’s book. “I think where it’s tricky is that self respect seems like a very good rule to follow, but self respect in order to land a man is dubious. On its own I understand, but the framing of finding a man as the end goal is what is suspect.”

While inspired by a book about rigid rules, and finding a man as the be-all end-all of life’s goals, the women in Guha’s play find themselves breaking the rules themselves. “The play says that finding out who you are is ahead of the goal of finding a man.”

The play takes place in modern times, where technology has replaced a lot of the world in which the book operates. “I think we’re still developing a sense of who we are as cyber entities separate from who we really are. The negotiation adds another layer to the dating scene. The book probably addresses a much simper time where people were much more face to face. It will be interesting to see what people say are the most important factors are in succeeding at internet dating.”

When asked if her new play is a good place to take a first Tinder date, Guha advises, “Yes if you’re willing to get real, fast. If you’re up for a really honest conversation then I would say, yes.”

You can take you Tinder date, or friend, or relative, or self, to see The Rules in previews June 22-29th  (opening night June 30th) through July 16th at the Creativity Theater, 221 Fourth Street, San Francisco.