“Elling,” a delicate parable about male outcasts that combines elements of “The Odd Couple” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” might have been well served in an intimate Off-Broadway theater. Instead, it has been poorly chosen as a star vehicle for Brendan Fraser, who is making a horrifically bad Broadway debut.
The play is based on an acclaimed Norwegian film that became a surprise hit in London. Kjell (Fraser) and Elling (Denis O’Hare) are roommates who, after two years spent together in a mental asylum, graduate to the outside world. While Elling is an agoraphobic, overgrown mamma’s boy, Kjell is a 40-year-old virgin obsessed with sex and hotdogs.
Besides a few visits from an annoying social worker and nurse, and some talk about poetry and pizza, very little actually happens during the play. In its most memorable moment, Fraser and O’Hare swap underwear in full view of the audience. Though it works as a simple character study, Doug Hughes’ production is poorly acted and misconceived to the point of feeling completely pointless.
Fraser, best known for such film classics as “George of the Jungle” and “Dudley Do-Right,” plays Kjell as a dumb, overgrown, overly physical frat boy. He is also way too forceful in his delivery. It’s hard not to shudder in discomfort as he violently slams his head on the table. (He’s also put on a bit of weight and looks less than attractive in a wife beater.)
O’Hare, who now appears on the television series “True Blood,” is comparatively better as the strange and mysterious Elling. Unfortunately, O’Hare has a tendency to give the same quirky performance in every show that he appears in. His performance in "Elling" is not much different from the one he gave in "Take Me Out," "Assassins," and numerous other shows.
Take pity on the rest of the cast – including Jennifer Coolidge, Richard Easton and Jeremy Shamos – who are wasted in the background. Better yet, take pity on the audience that needs to sit through this misconceived mishap.
“Elling” plays at the Ethel Barrymore Theater through Mar. 20. 243 W. 47th St., 212-239-6200, ellingonbroadway.com.