None of the Above
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
October 7, 2007
Follow this algebra equation for a moment: a new script by an up-and-coming playwright (Jenny Lyn Bader) plus a young doppelganger of Laura Linney (Halley Feiffer) plus charming male co-star (Adam Green), times a wonderful space on Theater Row (the Lion Theater). Sounds like a decent formula for a new off-Broadway comedy, doesn't it? Yet somehow, None of the Above never takes off to the heights that such a team presumably could achieve, despite the palpable chemistry between Feiffer and Green and a first-rate production budget.
The premise of the play, which begins stronger than it finishes, is that Jamie (Feiffer) is a spoiled 17-year-old on the Upper East Side who is more interested in being a real-life "Gossip Girl" than bothering with things like schoolwork. Enter her SAT tutor, Clark (Green), whose sole focus is to not just to improve Jamie's SAT scores, but to get her a perfect score of 2400 so that she can get into Princeton. First, Clark needs to convince Jamie to stop focusing on dealing drugs out of her bedroom in her palatial apartment and to stay home from the clubs. Turns out that Jamie's been cut off monetarily from her absentee parents, so she's dealing purely for financial motives. Consequently she talks Clark into giving her a cut of his tutoring cash as an incentive to actually study. His contract with her father is that he only receives payment upon a perfect score, and off we go into a Legally Blonde-ish tale of girl-gives-up-a-social-life-for-books.
Unfortunately, every twist of the script from that point onward feels artificially introduced by Bader. The audience never hears about Jamie's drug dealing again. Jamie takes No-Doz in one scene in an effort to memorize an SAT vocabulary book, and gets a lecture from Clark on addiction. Clark has a previously undisclosed gambling addiction (via card-counting) which is his reason to focus on tutoring—a motive that doesn't read right for some reason. Turns out Clark owes Jamie's father a gambling debt, and that his loss at a card game has forced him into this gig of teaching Jamie. By the time Jamie takes her SAT, the love spark has kindled, and just when we are set to expect a romantic happy ending...Bader throws us one final curve ball and all hope of any sort of realism is tossed out the window.
Were it not for the tremendous repartee between Feiffer and Green, this piece would have truly drowned in its preposterous plot points. But the casting covers up a number of the holes in None of the Above. Green has no trouble nailing the role of the charming, tortured nerd. Feiffer, whose only flaw is that she looks about 27 years old as opposed to Jamie's 17, possesses a terrific sense of comic timing and lands several great situational zingers in Act Two that get the audience cackling. She also is successful at providing a natural feel for following a dramatic arc for Jamie, even if that arc itself is formulaic. The direction, by Julie Kramer, is serviceable but somewhat hamstrung by the single set location of the play (Jamie's bedroom) so there isn't much creativity that she can provide physically. But Kramer definitely lets the chemistry of Feiffer and Green flow freely and plays to their strengths, making the dialogue enjoyable.
None of the Above would almost be better served in another medium perhaps, possibly a film aimed at middle school girls. In every scene, it felt vaguely familiar, like a movie I caught a half-hour of on the USA network and then flipped the channel to another program. Feiffer and Green are terrific together, and are the best reason to go check out None of the Above, but with any luck they'll be paired up again together soon in a more intellectually challenging play.