Saturday, November 13, 2010
Simon Bent's English adaptation of a Norwegian play (and Oscar-nominated film) by Axel Hellstenius based on a series of novels by Ingmar Ambjornsen was a big hit in London. Having successfully crossed the North Sea, the play has now made it across the Atlantic in a production starring Denis O'Hare and Brendan Fraser directed by Doug Hughes at the Ethel Barrymore. Any opportunity to see O'Hare in action is a pleasure for me. He does not disappoint here in the title role of an agoraphobic momma's boy who was institutionalized after his mother's death. His roommate in the asylum, Kjell Bjarne (whose name is annoyingly repeated at least every five minutes), is a simple lug who is simultaneously lascivious and innocent -- it's a good role for Fraser. Released to a state-owned apartment in Oslo on a trial basis, this Norwegian odd couple strive to find their place in the world. Richard Easton is somewhat wasted in the role of a poet who befriends Elling. Jennifer Coolidge is hilarious in several roles, particularly as a poet at a slam. Jeremy Shamos is solid as their social worker. While there are many very funny one-liners, the humor tends to be broad and occasionally descends to the level of a tv sitcom. The second act runs downhill rapidly. The audience was wildly enthusiastic though. Maybe I just don't find the struggle of ex-mental patients to adjust that suitable a topic for comedy.