In Nordic odd-couple comedy ‘Elling,’ Oslo meets Broadway
Update: Despite original plans to run through March, “Elling” has closed on Broadway. According to the Associated Press, the final curtain came down on the play Sunday after just 22 previews and nine regular performances.
Although elements of the play were widely praised by critics, producers said ticket sales were far below projections and the production was finally considered too intimate for a big Broadway theater. – DK
BY DENNIS KING
NEW YORK – Transport Felix Unger and Oscar Madison to the Nordic climes of Oslo and you get a fair picture of the affectionately bickering dynamic of “Elling,” a new play on Broadway drawn from Norway’s 2002 nominee for best foreign film Oscar.
The play, which opened Sunday at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, features Hollywood mainstay Brendan Fraser (“Crash,” “Gods and Monsters”) in his Broadway debut and Tony Award winner Denis O’Hare (“Take Me Out”) in a gentle, free-spirited Odd Couple tale that follows the film’s narrative faithfully. (Actually, the film was based on a series of popular novels by Ingvar Ambjornsen, which were later adapted for stage and screen by Axel Hellstenius.)
Broadway’s version of “Elling” was first produced in London, where it won an Olivier nomination for best comedy. In its trans-Atlantic transfer it is directed by Tony-winner Doug Hughes (“The Royal Family,” “Doubt”) from a play script by Simon Bent.
Set in contemporary Oslo, a bustling city of brisk efficiency, the story introduces us to the finicky title character, Elling (played with fragile precision by O’Hare). He’s an uptight mama’s boy who has lived a sheltered life and is now in his 40s, petrified to cross the street, answer the telephone, shop for groceries or perform any of the basic necessities.
Placed in a clean, well-run government mental ward after his mother’s death, the obsessive, compulsively shy Elling finds himself sharing a room with the loutish Kjell Bjarne (Fraser in a shambling, skillful and big-hearted turn). Raised on a pig farm by his unloving stepfather, Kjell is a brooding “orangutan” of a man who forgets to bathe or change his underwear for weeks at a time and is given to fits of head-banging violence.
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