New Comedy Shines On Broadway
Review by Christopher Moore, Broadway Magazine
The unusually quirky and surprisingly successful new comedy “Elling” opened tonight at the venerable Ethel Barrymore Theatre. For anyone who thought the people of Norway lacked a sense of humor, let the record stand corrected. Based on the Norwegian novels of Ingvar Ambjornsen, and adapted from the Academy Award nominated foreign film; the vision conjured up by Simon Bent and director Doug Hughes of “Elling” on Broadway is inspired in its dry subtly and subversive in its world view.
Set in a modern Oslo, two former inmates of a mental hospital take an apartment together as they attempt to live a ‘normal’ life and fit into society. As the friends Elling and Kjell Bjarne (that is the correct spelling, I swear) begin their ‘normal’ life, they encounter an ordinary world that is just as eccentric and wonderful as they are. While the play begins as a cross between Samuel Beckett and Joe Orton, it ends up being something entirely different. The terse wit of Beckett is there throughout, but there is a narrative that unfolds and characters that develop in a singular way that is wonderfully pleasing.
The word “rare” is invoked at several points in the story by Elling to describe his orangutan of a friend Kjell; it is a moniker that applies to this entire production. With heartening twists, “Elling” could be the oddest feel-good hit in recent Broadway history.
In addition to the singular creation of Ambjornsen’s novel and vision of director Hughes and company, the success of the production owes a great deal to one of the most eclectic and effective ensembles now on Broadway.
Denis O’Hare takes the title role of Elling, a closet poet (literally). O’Hare instantly captivates the audience with his flawless combination of wit, intellect and unapologetic “mommie’s boy” insecurity. O’Hare finds more dimensions in the simple eccentricity and world-view of Elling than one might expect. As his friend, Brendan Fraser is not afraid to look unglamorous nor to act unglamorously; it is an enjoyable performance, and both Mr. O’Hare and Mr. Fraser appear to be in perfect harmony. Added to this are Richard Easton as a great poet who has lost his muse and Jennifer Coolidge as a neighbor who befriends the pair. Both Mr. Easton and Ms. Coolidge are strong in their roles and balance the fragility of their characters with a solid dose of joy.
As the play unfolds, this group forms an eclectic and eccentric community where even the most dysfunctional, drunken or depressed soul can both find and bring joy and happiness to the others. Ultimately there is a quite hopeful message that glows beneath the humor of the play; it is the idea that even the most damaged among us can be a vehicle for hope and inspiration. Unlike other recent off-beat new plays like “A Behanding In Spokane” or “God of Carnage” there is a heart that goes along with the smiles. The world can be a difficult place, but for a too-brief two hours on Broadway, Elling reminds us that courage takes many forms and facing our fears is not such a bad idea, at least in Oslo.
TAGS: Broadway, Elling, Brendan Fraser, Denis O’Hare, Norway, Opening Night, Review