Jenny Lyn Bader’s None of the Above features a Clueless-esque premise wherein a vapid teenage girl wins the heart of an intellectual older man, but with a higher education twist: A down and out linguistics graduate student takes on the challenge of tutoring an uptown girl toward a perfect score on the SAT. Emerging out of this familiar set-up are Clark (Adam Green) and Jamie (Halley Feiffer), two genuinely endearing characters with a common purpose and clever comedic timing.
Reviewed by Ilena George
Similar to its bubble-gum pink bedroom setting, the play is wrapped in a sugary sweet candy coating. And while it does at times have that unsatisfying feeling you get when consuming empty calories, the warmth the actors infuse into their characters breaks them out of their usual molds, saving them from becoming either too saccharine or too artificial.
From the absentee professional parents (one of whom is only reachable through the intercom on the wall) and omnipresent maids, to casual sex and drug and alcohol use and ostentatious displays of wealth, there is evidence everywhere of the many clichés applicable to a teenage Manhattanite attending private school. On the flipside of the tutor-tutee relationship, Clark, the tutor, is also introduced as stereotypically uptight: he counts words when people speak, uses five dollar vocabulary and absolutely loves tutoring. But we quickly learn that buttoned-down Clark hides some dark secrets and that Jamie’s claim that “Studying is just not me,” is also just a smokescreen for someone who is much brighter and much kinder than you might expect.
The characters quickly learn how to manipulate each other, coaxing out information in exchange for solving math problems, until Clark spills the beans about the preposterous contract he and Jamie’s father drew up when he agreed to be her tutor. Clark and Jamie realize they could both benefit from her acing the SAT and forge an alliance. From here, the plot turns loopily melodramatic, with the SAT escalating into a matter of life and debt.
But the two leads keep the escalating madcap plot within the realm of what’s emotionally believable. Green’s Clark is obviously charmed by Jamie’s mix of youth and sophistication and Feiffer’s irrepressible Jamie embodies that irrepressible interest many of us felt to find out who are teachers were outside the classroom. Green and Feiffer are both charming and each character’s reluctant fascination with the other keeps the action from getting stale when the play begins reiterating evidence that Jaime’s parents are never around, or that Clark has some serious baggage (from class issues to addictions). Added to the mix are some entertaining asides about the precociousness expected of private school kids, where Jamie periodically and off-handedly throws around esoteric bits of information she was taught at a very young age, including performing Faust in the 4th grade (“I was Gluttony,” Jamie shares wearily.).
The play has its rough patches, including some spots of clunky dialogue (“Clark, do you just think about the SAT all the time so you don’t have to deal with your real problems?”) and not completely believable teenage expressions (“Dumb as a doorbell,” “Cool your cookies”), and if over-the-top plot twists make you squirm, this may not be the bubble to fill in with a Number 2. But for a light-hearted, sometimes polysyllabic diversion, the answer is D: None of the Above.
None of the Above
By Jenny Lyn Bader
Directed by Julie Kramer
Lion Theater (Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street)
September 25-November 25, Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm,
Sunday at 3pm
Tickets: $45, Ticket Central (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com
$20 Rush tickets available the day of the performance at the Theater Row Box Office
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.