WSG debuts the funny, affecting Elling

Two mentally ill Norwegian roommates face the challenge of reintegrating into society in Elling.  The result is an affectionate, amusing comedy that successfully targets both your funny bone and your heart in this latest production from Washington Stage Guild.

(l-r) James Konicek as Kjell Bjarne and Bill Largess as Elling (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)To describe Elling and Kjell Bjarne as an odd couple is a major understatement.  These two men are so different that they make Neil Simon’s famous roommates Felix and Oscar seem like fraternal twins.

Any Freudians seeing this might term Kjell Bjarne and Elling as the id and the superego.  Elling described Kjell Bjarne (James Konicek) as an “orangutan who cares only about food and women” and who is constantly becoming sexually aroused.  In contrast, Elling (Bill Largess) is an agoraphobic middle-aged momma’s boy who experiences massive anxiety and insecurity after her death that is so crippling he can barely function in society.

The two men formed a friendship as roommates for two years in an asylum.  The benevolent Norwegian welfare state then gives them the chance to chance to live in their own apartment, a half-way house arrangement overseen by social worker Frank Asli (Dylan Myers).  If they fail to adapt to such tasks as answering the phone and eating in a restaurant, they can count on a return to the institution, possibly for the rest of their lives.

The challenge of reintegrating into society and the making of new acquaintances complicate their unlikely friendship.  Kjell Bjarne falls for a pregnant woman living in the apartment upstairs (not surprising given that she is played by the beautiful and vivacious Tricia McCauley).  Meanwhile Elling bonds with an older gentleman (Vincent Clark) over their shared love of classic poetry and mutual disdain of modern poetry.

Recommended
ELLING
Closes May 18, 2014
Washington Stage Guild at
Undercroft Theatre
900 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC
2 hours, 5 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $48
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details
Tickets
James Konicek and Bill Largess give fine performances.  Konicek gives full comic rein to his enthusiastic and innocent character while also earning the audience’s compassion.  Largess plays a prickly fussbudget but also a caring friend.  Together the two men have a comfortable comic rapport.

Director Kasi Campbell astutely guides the play at just the right volume, balancing the humor of the lovable oddballs with the low-key character story.  She allows the audience time to develop a sentimental fondness for the pair in a tale that slowly builds to a satisfying conclusion.

While Washington Stage Guild is best known for its renditions of works by Shaw and other classic playwrights, the company is equally skilled with more modern plays.  Elling is one of the better examples of works that feature endearingly crazy characters like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Boys Next Door.

The funny, often touching Elling has a universality that hits home and will leave you with a warm afterglow.

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Elling based on a novel by Ingvar Ambjørnsen, English adaptation by Simon Bent .   Directed by Kasi Campbell, featuring Bill Largess, James Konicek, Vincent Clark, Tricia McCauley, and Dylan Myers . Produced by Washington Stage Guild . Reviewed by Steven McKnight.

 

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More reviews:

Shannon Shiffler . MDTheatreGuide
Celia Wren . Washington Post
Amanda Gunther . DCMetroTheaterArts
Andrew White . BroadwayWorld 

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