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Oddball Fraser Falls for Boozing Coolidge in ‘Elling’: Review

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"Elling"
Denis O'Hare and Brendan Fraser in "Elling" in New York. The play runs through March 20, 2011 at the Barrymore Theatre at 243 West 47th Street. Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Nov. 22 (Bloomberg) -- 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


What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Very Good
*           Good
(No stars)  Poor

(Jeremy Gerard is a theater critic and editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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