BY ROB KENDT
Special to Newsday
October 15, 2007
If you can't snag top-tier tickets for the starry
revival of Shaw's "Pygmalion" that opens Thursday on Broadway, you could do worse than wander down 42nd Street to the Lion Theatre and catch Jenny Lyn Bader's "None of the Above," a sprightly, often clever variation on the intellectual-makeover plot.
Here the genders are the same, but the classes are reversed: She's an Upper East Side high schooler with a sense of privileged entitlement roughly as overgrown as her raging need for companionship, and he's a brainiac tutor from a small town who is stoically laboring under the burden of college debt.
But, as in Shaw's play, there's an unwitting mutual education and some flickers of romantic chemistry going on between Jamie (Halley Feiffer) and Clark (Adam Green). He's been hired by her absent father to coach her to a perfect SAT score; she tanked on her last big test because she was hung over. As meet-cutes go, this is a doozy.
In fact, Bader's script extracts a surprising amount of tart social comedy from their tutoring sessions, as each discovers the other's Achilles heel. Clark, seeing that Jamie is prone to go to extremes to meet high expectations, challenges her accordingly. And Jamie, an amateur pop-psychologist, can tell that Clark buries a lot of pain and passion under his plastered-down hair and obsessive rigor.
While there are more plot twists here than a two-character play can really bear, both characters ultimately make a convincing journey from mutual distrust and disdain to a loose-fitting comfort, even intimacy.
It helps a lot that, under Julie Kramer's direction, Feiffer and Green make an effortlessly appealing and complementary pair. Though Feiffer starts off a bit too low-key, as if she's playing to a camera, she soon hits the stride of a natural comedian as she tries to get a rise out of the provocatively walled-off Green.
Feiffer's sneaky magnetism cinches the deal, since this turns out to be Jamie's story as surely as "Legally Blonde" belongs to Elle Woods. Indeed, the play's sympathy for this inarguably spoiled rich kid is perhaps its most disarming quality. Jamie, for all her easy wealth, is a lonely mini-adult who lost her virginity in eighth grade and casually deals pot to replace a suspended allowance.
She confesses, touchingly, to Clark late in the show, as she eagerly deals out a deck of cards: "I never really get to play."
This, of course, is one reason Clark is able to get through to her - he turns their tutoring sessions into a kind of high-stakes game. But it speaks, of course, to a deeper need to connect.
Lauren Helpern's think-pink set expertly hits the balance between eyesore and comfort zone - a perfect middle ground for a teenager, come to think of it, though this room is almost unbelievably high-end and clutter-free, even for the Upper East Side.
Indeed, "None of the Above" would benefit from a bit more muss in its characterization and a bit less fuss in its plotting. It's the kind of show you might comfortably call "cute," and not mean it as a put-down.
NONE OF THE ABOVE. Written by Jenny Lyn Bader. Directed by Julie Kramer. Through Nov. 25 at the Lion Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., Manhattan. For tickets call 212-279-4200. Seen Tuesday.
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