with Petter Naess
English adaptation by Simon Bent
Directed by Steve Scott
At Redtwist Theatre, Chicago, IL
” He (Kjell) is an orang-utan who only cares about women and food – one of life’s simpler apostles — but I feel safe in some strange way, having him by my side.”— Elling
Heartwarming comic drama unfolds as a tribute to the human spirit
Redtwist Theatre features their top actors- Peter Oyloe (Kjell), Andrew Jessop (Elling) and Brian Parry (Alfons) who are sporting their comedic skills in the winning stage production of the Norwegian film “Elling” deftly adapted by Simon Bent. This is a charming, warm comic drama about two seemingly mentally challenged men who struggle to make it on their own away from a mental institution.
We meet Elling (Andrew Jessop) a shy, withdrawn anti-social nerd self-described “mummy’s boy” who always wears a tie and sweeter who lives with Kjell (Peter Oyloe) a simpleminded crude brute who only desires food and sex. These two pure innocents, despite their quirks, becomes fast friends in a unique sort of ‘odd couple’ as they struggle with their sanity in a scary world. After two years being roommates in a mental institution, the guys get an apartment in Oslo. The pair can only remain there if they manage to convince their social worker, Frank (Michael Sherwin) that they can cope in the outside world.
The comic adventures of these two easily win our hearts as they both establish their quirky personalities. Elling is a prim, proper, neurotic, intensely agoraphobic yet intellectual aware self-educated individual with poetic aspirations. We laugh and commiserate with the gentle Elling.
His roommate Kjell is a man of few words, crude yet loyal and gentle in a brutish sort of way that reveals his spirited zest. He is a scruffy, unshaven and unwashed guy who loves comic books and sex talk. Food and women dominate his thoughts. Elling and Kjell quickly become friends as they work together to survive in a scary world. Andrew Jessop and Peter Oyloe have an amazingly honest stage chemistry and terrific comic timing that so truthfully depicts the strange world of the mentally challenged. These two actors are at the top of their art and they are a joy to watch. They produce comedy in two of the finest performances of they year! A phone ringing and a doorbell chime scare these guys. Each of their encounters garners much humor as each day is an adventure for theses lovable pals.
They get help surviving in Oslo from the outstanding work from Cameron Feagin as Reidun, Kjell’s pregnant girlfriend; from Michael Sherwin as the tough social worker Frank Alsi; and from the always effective Brian Parry as the retired poet Alfons.
Elling is a sweet comic drama that is a touching tribute to the spirit of humanity basic to the spirit of two determined challenged folks to more than survive. They exhibit a unique zest for life in their own terms that contains hilarious peculiar honesty that wins our hearts. Elling is much more that a comic friendship play; it is a heartwarming look at what being human is all about. Jessop and Oyloe are terrific as Elling and Kjell. It is refreshing to see such a slick production (deftly directed by Steve Scott) that both makes us laugh and wins our hearts. For something different, catch Elling – it’ll make you feel good and it’ll make you laugh. Redtwist Theatre continues to mount outstanding plays.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: September 24, 2011
At Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-728-7529,www.redtwist.org, Tickets $27- $30 ($5 off for seniors) Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through October 30, 2011
Thoughts by Will Fink
Elling is a champion of awkwardness. Think Seinfeld or Extras. There are plenty of moments of pin-prickling awkwardness. But, like Larry David’s and Ricky Gervais’ works, the show is sometimes hard to watch because entirely likable people, people you root for, people you want to see succeed, get themselves into trouble because of who they are. Not everyone can have the social graces of Danny Ocean. And besides, these characters wouldn’t be who they are without their flaws and faux pas. What Adrew Jessop and Peter Oyloe do so well here is to make miscreants and freaks lovable. They are perhaps more obviously flawed than your average person, but that does not mean others’ flaws go as deep as their own.
And really, that’s what’s at the heart of the piece: these two people are both superficially and substantially troubled; but those around them – they are troubled, too. And these people manage to elevate themselves – all of them. They find their knacks and those who will take them for who they are, and succeed because of it.
Elling succeeds because it is driven by characters that you like and want the best for. It’s sort of a buddy comedy, and it’s certainly feel-good; but there’s plenty of feeling less than good along the way. But, really, what’s wrong with any of that? It puts a smile on your face and tells a compelling story with fantastic actors. What more could you need?