This off kilter play called ELLING on its off kilter, Ikea looking set by Scott Pask would be better suited off-Broadway than at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre where it seems dwarfed by the size of the stage.
ELLING has a long pedigree. Based on the novels by Ingvar Ambjornsen (very successful novels I might add) there was a stage and film adaptation by Axel Hellstenius in collaboration with Peter Naess and now a new English Adaptation by Simon Bent starring Brendan Fraser and Denis O’Hare as Oslo’s answer to the odd couple. Having trouble finding its footing and tone there seems to have been something lost in the translation of this tale about normalcy, friendship and insanity directed by Doug Hughes.
Elling (Denis O’Hare) is an educated, talkative momma’s boy and insecure poet who is compulsively neat. Kjell (Brendan Fraser) with a slower mental capacity is a forty year old horny hulk of a man, a virgin and sloppy. They are a combination of Felix and Oscar, Laurel and Hardy and Lenny and George from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. With a lot of Forrest Gump thrown in.
Opposites do attract and O’Hare and Fraser turn in fine tuned performances. At times, truly comic. But not enough of the time to make this a must see event unless you are fans of these two men.
Included are Richard Easton who has his own loyal following as Alfons Jorgensen, the amazing Jennifer Coolidge who runs away with the show as a tough nurse, a pregnant neighbor, a zaftig waitress and hip poet. Jeremy Shamos fills out the cast as the social worker who has set both Elling and Kjell up in their new apartment after being transferred from the nut house where we first encounter these polar opposite roomies.
Having to prove that they can lead normal lives in order to remain in the state owned apartment they go through the normal rigors of living with someone and their friendship develops to the point of exchanging Christmas presents and underwear. If this has piqued your interest so be it.
When the unmarried pregnant upstairs neighbor falls in a heap on their doorstep their friendship is further tested. It becomes absurd with Elling inserting his anonymous poems into packages of sauerkraut and receiving praise from a famous poet (Alfons) that Elling has met when he finally finds the courage to leave the apartment who owns an old broken down Buick that Kjell will repair. It’s a tale that ends up with them all in the country in a cabin owned by Alfons under a beautiful starlit sky.
Will the odd or rather rare couple be able to stay in their apartment? Will they remain friends? And what is to become of the pregnant woman? Is it insanity or just plain normal? Who’s to say?
www.EllingOnBroadway.com Through March 20, 2011 Photo: Joan Marcus