By John Quinn
Election season is upon us, and in the deluge of campaigning, I sometimes wish the ballots offered a circle labeled “none of the above.” But Jenny Lyn Bader’s play “None of the Above” suggests that living by multiple choice is a poor option. The contemporary comedy, receiving its Michigan premiere at U of D-Mercy’s Theatre Company, is an amusing study of status in a classist society.
Jamie (Michelle Renaud), child of privilege and only 17, totally blew her Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), largely because she was still drunk from the night before. Her mother and father, though successful in business, prefer to parent by proxy, have cut off her allowance and hired a tutor. Clark (Chris Jakob), impoverished grad student and mathematical savant, has made – as Jamie categorizes it – a Faustian pact with her father: If she merits a perfect score on the SAT, Clark reaps a financial windfall. If she misses the target, he gets nothing.
Superficially this sounds like another take on the Pygmalion legend, but Jamie is no Eliza Dolittle. She is disengaged, uninterested, and frankly, something of a brat. There is a pleasing tension between the buttoned-up Clark and the impetuous, literally unbuttoned Jamie, fueled by the fact that they are not so far apart in age. Bader’s plot and characters are convoluted; surprises pop up in every scene as the two characters let down their guards.
Dr. Arthur J. Beer deftly captures the breezy rhythm of Bader’s script, even buoying our interest through Act II Scene 1, in which Bader’s rhythm resembles cardiac arrest. This is yet another case when artists dole out sweet lemonade no matter how sour the lemon they were handed.
The actors in “None of the Above” face complementary challenges in defining their characters. Michelle Renaud aptly plays a resourceful girl wise beyond her years. Jamie, after all, resorts to dealing weed when she is cut off from her parent’s funds. It’s Clark’s job to channel her obvious intelligence into a better endeavor – education. We see rare glimpses of the child-like Jamie – most endearingly, when she exuberantly jumps up and down on her bed. Speaking of the bed – our appreciation of Jamie’s character is attractively enhanced by Melinda Pacha’s bedroom set; decked out in bright pinks and loud patterns, a little disheveled but not a pit, it tells a story all its own about its occupant.
Chris Jakob has the unenviable task of defining a character that is, de facto, an authority figure, but who isn’t too much older than his reluctant pupil. Clark has his secrets, and Jakob’s measured revelations resemble peeling an onion. But, man! Is Clark a good-tempered fellow! When Jamie is at her snotty worst, his grin-and-bear-it disposition seems inhumanly charitable.
If “None of the Above” sounds a little too academic, it’s not. It’s a witty, intelligent revel in expectation and opportunity. It will raise the question whether life is a test. If so, I hope we’re graded on a curve.
‘None of the Above’
UDM Theatre Company at Marygrove College Theatre, 8425 W. McNichols, Detroit. Friday-Sunday through Oct. 14. 130 minutes. $10-20. 313-993-3270. http://theatre.udmercy.edu