Who would have thought studying for the SAT could be so funny? One of the surprises in store in Jenny Lyn Bader's bubbly new comedy at the Ohio Theatre, None of the Above, is that it makes the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) as funny as it does; that it finds time to examine a number of weighty psychological subjects and imbue them with humor is more remarkable still.
On one level, None of the Above can be seen to be about class warfare: Jamie (Alison Pill) is a 17 year-old who lives on Park Avenue - the set, Jamie's sumptuously appointed room, is the handsome work of designer Lauren Helpern - and has always been everything she wanted, while Clark (Kel O'Neill) is the SAT tutor hired by Jamie's father, a brilliant graduate student who has worked himself up from a tiny town in upstate New York but has little to his name other than a series of students who all scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT.
The two clash, of course. To Clark, Jamie seems shallow and self-involved, concerned over the loss of a few dollars when her family is obviously rich; to Jamie, Clark seems socially awkward and incapable of understanding her difficulties are no less important than his. Bader finds humor in their differences, but perhaps a spark of something else as well, though the unique nature of their agreement - Clark will receive a significant sum of money if, and only if, Jamie receives a 1600 on the test, and nothing if she doesn't - means that a traditional romance is off limits.
Bader begins breaking down the barriers between the two, so that both the characters and the audience can see, despite outward appearances, how similar Clark and Jamie really are. Bader handles these revelations slowly and carefully, working hard to establish questions and build up the suspense about the answers. The changes that take place in Clark and Jamie's relationship happen very smoothly, their interactions and feelings toward each other progressing, over the six months or so the play follows, exactly as it seems they should.
It helps that O'Neill and Pill are as perfectly in sync as they are. In appearance and vocal delivery, the two couldn't be more different. Yet each has an innate likability, and a different way of presenting their dry senses of humor - Pill through effervescence, O'Neill through deadpan - that nonetheless makes them almost a perfect match onstage. Bader makes sure the laughter almost never stops coming, but as the performers keep the characters squarely in sight, it's humor with solid dramatic grounding, making the entire play a real journey of exploration for them that is a delightful comic journey for the audience.
The show's flaws are few, but not imperceptible. None of the Above loses a bit of steam near the middle of the second act when the characters lose some of their humor, becoming too serious almost jarringly quickly. And Pill reads a bit older than 17, her world-weary wisdom leaking through too much at the beginning of the show when she should be in greatest need of the structure O'Neill's character will soon threaten to provide.
But the play comes together so nicely that minor problems seem mostly unimportant in the final analysis. With a very chilly winter about to come to and end, None of the Above is a great play to really kick off the spring - a breezy, almost-romantic comedy that, for two hours, will keep the sun brightly shining.