Dallas — Jenny Lyn Bader’s None of the Above, having its area premiere at Churchmouse Productions, follows a typical rom-com formula: Two people who initially don’t seem right for each other realize, through what begins as a working relationship, they can’t live without the other.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a formula. When it works, it really works.
Here it works, thanks to characters written with believable potential for change and a sure-footed production directed by Jared Culpepper. The only problem comes with the ick-factor of this relationship: a spoiled, rich teenage girl and her SAT tutor. He’s only a few years older, mind you, and not in an official position of power over her. But you won’t be faulted for wishing that this one wouldn’t end the way it does. That is, until you get to know them.
Jamie (Kelly Stewart) is the typical high school girl who has been cursed with rich, busy parents who are never there for her. To find ways of getting attention, she parties too much and deals pot, among other vices. Sad face. Clark (Steve Robert Pounds) has been cursed in other ways. He was not born into wealth, or even into middle class comfort, and has had to rely on his high-functioning brain to make some money to pay for college—and not in the ways you would think, given that he’s smart enough to have much of his way paid for via scholarship. He also had to grow up too fast. He skipped two grades and his gift for numbers got him into gambling trouble.
At first she is resistant to having a tutor, but Clark’s arrangement with her father brings up an opportunity she can’t pass up. Plus, she’s smarter than she or Clark gives her credit for.
Bader is at her most clever when using the formulas of mathematics as metaphors for the dynamics of relationship-land. Jamie gets respect from Clark when she realizes that his agreement with her father has turned her into a probability, for instance.
Culpepper moves the two-act play along at a nimble clip on Heidi Diederich’s set design of Jamie’s bedroom, which for the most part looks like a teenage girl’s bedroom (she’d probably have a bigger bed, but this is a small theater space). Jen J. Madison does a commendable job with contemporary costumes that reflect the characters’ personalities, economic backgrounds and trends (his are slightly outdated, but still nerdy-hip).
There’s a lot more complexity than many would expect in Jamie. Stewart, a drama student at the University of Texas at Arlington, discovers each layer as Bader reveals them, no matter how subtly. It’s fun to watch her flirtiness evolve as Jamie shows that she actually is capable of maturity.
As Clark, Pounds has a tougher time winning us over. There’s something about the attitude he throws out from the get-go that rings false. He always has an eyebrow raised and he's frustratingly condescending in a way that doesn’t quite match his character.
In the end, you’re kind of glad they end up together. Not because it makes for a feel-good ending but because you realize that these people probably deserve each other. They’re both insufferable in their own way. They probably won’t have any friendships in the real world that go beyond the superficial. And that’s a bit sad.
But, theater isn’t required to give us characters we want to hang out with. That would be boring, predictable and safe. We’ll take none of the above.