Political correctness suffers a lively blow in the slight, endearing “Elling,” a Broadway comedy starring Brendan Fraser and Denis O’Hare as mentally ill roommates tentatively making their way in the world.
Elling (O’Hare) is a neatnik and prude whose agoraphobia keeps him tied to his room. O’Hare, a master of the double take and neurotic wince, pumps him with humanity.
Kjell (Fraser) is a slobby virginal simpleton. His friend calls him an orangutan, a description Fraser charmingly embraces.
These off-kilter Candides first meet their upstairs neighbor, Reidun (Jennifer Coolidge), in the hallway. She’s blacked out, drunk and extremely pregnant. She smokes, too, right after regaining consciousness in the bed that Kjell and Elling have gallantly brought her to.
A very funny romance ensues between Kjell and the equally slovenly Reidun, who is gleefully oblivious to any social conventions.
This would be little more than an extended, predictable sitcom about cute crazies were it not for the utterly committed performances by a company that includes Richard Easton as a washed-up poet who befriends Elling and Jeremy Shamos as the compassionate social worker who oversees the roommates.
Doug Hughes stages Simon Bent’s adaptation of the Norwegian novels by Ingvar Ambjornsen with crisp simplicity. He’s aided by Scott Pask’s unfussy, dormitory-like setting, Kenneth Posner’s bright lighting and Catherine Zuber’s plain duds for the men and hilariously de trop outfits for Reidun.
Through March 20, 2011 at the Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: **1/2
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(Jeremy Gerard is a theater critic and editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)