None of the Above” epitomizes the absurdity of romantic comedy, but does it mean to? You could go bonkers trying to answer that question, yet the show’s inscrutability is what makes it fascinating. As she makes a spoiled high-schooler fall for her geeky tutor, playwright Jenny Lyn Bader uses more trite plot devices than a season of sitcoms. But since script and production both hover between sincerity and sarcasm, it’s never clear if the creatives are in on the joke they’re telling. If they are, this is a stellar parody. If not, it’s a crying shame.
The mystery begins with the pre-show. Listening to silly pop songs like Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend,” we see Lauren Helpern’s bedroom set, which looks like a Pepto-Bismol explosion. Not even the cream accents on the ottomans can offset the pink-pink-pink of the walls, the bedspread and the fuzzy beanbag chair.
The room also has elegant light fixtures and a balcony, so obviously the girl who lives here is as rich as she is spoiled. But even though Helpern’s decorations are cliche, they’re not quite over-the-top. It’s hard to know if we should take this prissy palace seriously.
Actors don’t clarify the tone. Playing Jamie — a lazy, wealthy teenager (bingo!) whose father hires a grad student to help her study for the SATs — Halley Feiffer avoids all signs of camp. When Jamie explains that she sells marijuana or that she only talks to her mom on the house intercom, she never winks at the crowd.
In fact, Feiffer doesn’t make any broad choices. Instead, she reacts with levelheaded calm, as though Jamie looks at every situation; says, “Hmm, that’s interesting”; and then tries to respond sensibly.
So while her life is outre, Jamie comes across as utterly stable. It’s her tutor, Clark (Adam Green), who’s a charming, neurotic mess. Just like Feiffer, though, Green opts for subtlety, and the pair’s casual chemistry makes their relationship seem authentic.
But there’s the rub. The warm, human performances, guided by director Julie Kramer, chafe against the ludicrousness of the script.
Consider these developments: Clark confesses he has a gambling addiction, and he tells Jamie that her father will pay his debts if he coaches her to a perfect SAT score. In response, she takes speed, learns an entire vocabulary book, wins thousands of dollars in Atlantic City and falls in love.
In other words: Free spirit takes wacky risk to help buttoned-down friend. Touching lessons ensue.
And that’s not the only tired device. In one bit, Jamie tutors Clark on how to pick up chicks; you can find the same switcheroo in episode 16 of “My So-Called Life.” Plus, there are the requisite scenes in which the dweeb acts like a macho man and the dumb girl proves she had hidden talents.
Are auds expected to accept this as genuine feeling? Or does the straight-faced approach actually deepen the play’s criticism of its genre? Those quandaries could stump anyone — even a kid with a perfect SAT score.