(Elling on Broadway Website)
New English Adaptation by Simon Bent
Based on the Novels by Ingvar Ambjornsen
Stage and Film Adaptation by
Axel Hellstenius in collab. With Petter Naes
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street
Brendan Fraser and Denis O’Hare
Jennifer Coolidge, Richard Easton
Directed by Doug Hughes
Scenic Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Original Music and Sound Design: David Von Tieghem
Hair and Wig Design: Tom Watson
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA
Production Stage Manager: Barclay Stiff
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Assoc. Producer: Tali Pelman
General Management: Stuart Thompson Prod.
Marshall B. Purdy
Exec. Producer: David Lazar
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 18, 2010
Simon Bent’s English language adaptation of Elling, from the 2002 Norwegian film to 2010 Broadway, based on the novels of Ingvar Ambjornsen, is filled with the elements of the human condition: alienation, fear, denial, sexual obsession, and dependency. But the characters here are not from a relationship or family or society in meltdown. The two main characters, Elling (Dennis O’Hare) and Kjell Bjarne (Brendan Fraser) are patients in a psychiatric institution; Elling, who still lionizes his deceased, magisterial mother and will not venture outside or pick up a phone, and Kjell, who has a verbal tick of swearing, swaggers like a lumberjack, and wears his winter hat indoors. Their only contact with the “world” is Frank Asli (Jeremy Shamos), their social worker, who has a big surprise. Frank has arranged for Elling and Kjell to move to an actual apartment, with two bedrooms, where they can shop, cook, order food deliveries, clean, and have their own phone number and telephone. Oslo, here they come.
The poignancy with which Mr. O’Hare and Mr. Fraser throw themselves into the roles of two marginal men, Elling, whose heart stops at a telephone ringing, and Kjell, who’s drawn to the lady who cooks upstairs, is directed by Doug Hughes for nuance and gesture. Soon Kjell has a real girlfriend, not just the ladies on the line for phone sex, a habit that racked up a fortune in bills, to the agony of Frank Asli. And soon Elling has a friend, Alfons Jorgensen, a once prolific poet who needed a spark to reignite his craft. Elling proves to be that spark, and, as we watch, both Elling and Kjell form bonds anew with characters who never saw the inside of a psychiatric home. Habits of normalcy were adopted, and Frank Asli became the play’s subtle hero. The cast treated their roles with respect for physicality, a slow, heavy walk, a facial twitch, or curling up like a cocoon, and with respect for those with emotional handicaps, as they never careened into cartoonish behavior. The respect the characters verbalized toward each other is thanks to Simon Bent, and to Doug Hughes, as well. Jennifer Coolidge, as four characters, notably the lady upstairs, was stunning in her versatility and accommodations to the roles.
Scott Pask’s uncluttered, sturdy sets, the beds and walls of the first shared room, then the apartment and beds of the second shared room (Elling and Kjell had immediately moved their beds into one bedroom, for fear of loneliness), were perfectly suited to the stark simplicity of this story. Kenneth Posner’s indoor-outdoor lighting was warm and nurturing, and the dim poetry reading and nighttime darkness for Elling’s self-exploration were designed for quietude. When the antics broke out, and Elling’s dry humor and Kjell’s impulsive vulgarity were on display, the cast and direction were at their finest. Kudos to all.
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