Review: “None of the Above”

How difficult is it, really, to get a perfect score on the all important, life deciding, Scholastic Achievement Test, better known as the SAT? Theatre on the Square answers this very question in their latest Indianapolis performing arts offering, None of the Above, a comic romp through test preparation. Playing in Theatre on the Square’s cabaret space now through May 22, 2010, None of the Above offers two great performances that suffer, at times, from underdeveloped direction. Regardless, the play offers a zany look at the SAT through the eyes of a New York City prima dona and her straight-laced, number-obsessed tutor. Head to the Indianapolis cultural district, Mass Ave, to find out what it takes to attain perfection, on the SAT anyway.

Written by Jenny Lyn Bader, None of the Above is a two person show (a “two-hander”) staring Emily Bohannon as the high society teen princess Jamie Silver and Paul Wallace as the perfection driven SAT tutor with a few skeletons in his closet, Clark McDonald. In Bader’s script, the pair orbit around each other and an SAT Prep book in a money driven chess game of give and take. Clark soon discovers that he is in over his head after signing a high risk contract with Jamie’s father, in which payment depends exclusively on Jamie’s perfect score. When Jamie, whose parents cut her off when she broke their priceless Ming vase, learns about Clark’s big gamble, she begins angling for her cut. Hoping to give up her part time job of dealing drugs to her over privileged peers, Jamie sees a golden opportunity in Clark’s tutelage. His reputation of students with perfect scores seems only to sweeten the deal.

In an odd couple pairing, the team finds more in common than some silly test. And inevitably, a high school crush attempts to blossom into true love. But as the truth of Clark’s sordid past and the true nature of his contract surfaces, it seems that the love birds have a rocky take off as they try to save both their butts with a perfect score on the SAT. The two-hander offers a simple formula, opposites are not only hilarious but attract, creating conflict and relationship at the same time. Bohannon and Wallace establish with each other a solid and believable rapport that carries them through even the most far fetched plot devices. None of the Above soars to hilarious heights at its peak, with Bohannon as a driving comedic force and Wallace as an equally important and well executed straight man.

Emily Bohannon delves into the entitled and spoiled Upper East Side New York teen with vigor. Bohannon offers, at first, a caricatured picture of the bratty Jamie Silver, but slides easily along the scale through desperate teen lacking true attention and discipline to puppy love child and even an intelligent and independent student making great strides on her own. Though Bohannon showed her nerves early on, with quick and uneasy glances to the audiences’ giggles, she settled easily into the role, grabbing laugh after laugh without missing a beat. Without fear of being foolish or ugly, Bohannon heads bravely into both territories, but manages to master each unscathed. As an actor, her desire to illicit response from the audience fell in line with her character’s desperate and foolish cries for help and attention. She was, in short, a joy to watch for two hours.

Her partner on stage, Paul Wallace, accented her comedic performance with a serious yet gentle tone throughout. Without his realistic reactions to set off her caricatured over reactions, the comedic equation would have been incomplete. Thus Wallace can easily take equal responsibility for every hilarious success from scene to scene. As the straight man, Wallace was genuinely funny, and a great frame for Bohannon’s over the top explosions. The believability of the show’s actions rests largely on Wallace’s shoulders in this role, but he carries it off without a hitch. However, his character’s romantic feelings for her seemed a bit labored in relation to Bohannon’s commitment to the romantic aspect of the script. Nonetheless, both Wallace and Bohannon have an easy and believable rapport that invites each member of the audience into their various tutoring sessions.

Aside from enjoyable performances from the entire cast of two actors, None of the Above does face its share of obstacles throughout. I’m still not sure whether to blame the script or the director for what I felt was an absence of follow through on the action. Dannon Crews directs this episodic script on the Theatre on the Square stage for the first time. After assisting Ron Spencer on My First Time earlier this season, Spencer saw fit to place Crews in the driver’s seat for this show. Having seen Crews act around town at Theatre on the Square and in the Theatre Within‘s Twilight of the Golds, it is clear that Crews is an actors’ director. The fine work he elicited from Bohannon and Wallace is a true testament to this.

However, None of the Above lacked momentum as the play drudged toward its end. After the conflict of the first act is resolved half way through the second act, the action begins to flounder with what feels like last ditch efforts to finish a script. Though the end is loosely foreshadowed through the exposition of the play, Crews failed to hit these points in a way that signposted for the audience what was to come. So when the test was taken and the results were received half way through Act Two, the story veered into a seemingly whole new direction. This problem lies with both the Bader’s script and Crews’ direction. However, the play dragged for another reason that lies solely with a directorial choice.

Each scene was punctuated with dreadfully long scene changes, that seemed largely unneeded. As a stage hand with the very loose semblance of a maid’s outfit swept the stage to move props and fluff pillows, I found myself asking “Why is this taking so long? Is it really necessary to move cell phones, messenger bags, clothes, sheets etc. this intricately from scene to scene?” It occurred to me Bohannon’s fashion obsessed character needed to make costume changes from scene to scene, a more forgivable excuse than the unrealistic need to shift some props. Yet with each slow moving scene change, the fast paced feeling of comedy gave way to the feeling of drudging through molasses on a humid summer day. Had these changes clipped a bit more, or had Crews invented a more creative way to fill the time (i.e. give the maid, who is mentioned in the script, a thru-line of her own from scene change to scene change), the problem would have been solved.

Regardless of these failures, Crews still presents excellent acting work from talented actors, making None of the Above an enjoyable bit of Indianapolis art. Head to the Indianapolis performing arts venue, Mass Ave, to catch this latest Indianapolis theatre offering at Theatre on the Square through May 22, 2010. Support Indianapolis culture with your patronage. The Indianapolis artists who work tirelessly to present the myriad of theatre in Indianapolis deserve a bit of notice for repeatedly producing enjoyable Indianapolis events around the Circle City.

After the show head to any of the many Indianapolis restaurants or Indianapolis bars in Indianapolis downtown for dinner and drinks. Stay tuned to Indianapolis News, Events and Information on Fun City for all the latest on fun things to do in Indianapolis. We cover Indianapolis attractions to Indianapolis sports and more. This is Katelyn Coyne saying, “Get out in Indy and find some fun!”

None of the Above
Now through May 22, 2010

Theatre on the Square
627 Massachusetts Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46204