«Elling» stuns in new stage production
The adaptation of the novel “Brødre i blodet” captivates audiences in Washington, D.C.
Christine Foster Meloni
“Elling” was the Washington Stage Guild’s final play of the season, and the production was truly superb. Norwegian author Ingvar Ambjørnsen wrote a tetralogy about the character Elling, and this play is based on the third book in the series, Brødre i blodet (Blood brothers). A film version of this book became one of the most popular Norwegian movies ever and was nominated for an Oscar in 2001.
Elling has lived an extremely sheltered life with his mother for the first 40 years of his life. When Mom dies, he breaks down and cannot possibly live on his own. He is sent to a state institution where he meets his roommate Kjell Bjarne, a very simple but extremely boisterous man. At first, Elling finds him rather overwhelming and even refers to him in his diary as an orangutan. But the two develop a strong friendship.
After two years, the Norwegian government informs Elling and Kjell Bjarne that it has decided to release them. They will be given an apartment in Oslo and a stipend. They will be expected to live on their own, initially under the watchful eye of their social worker. Their new life together is, of course, not without challenges. How they face and resolve these challenges makes for many amusing moments. Ultimately, they are declared capable of living on their own.
The actors all slip comfortably into their roles. Bill Largess skillfully portrays Elling as a Mama’s Boy (as Elling proudly defines himself), a control freak, and an agoraphobiac. James Konicek is hilarious as Kjell Bjarne, who careens noisily through his new life, obsessed with a desire for women.
Dylan Myers ably plays Frank Asli, their exasperated social worker. He is frustrated that the men are afraid to venture out of their apartment to do their grocery shopping and are terrified to go near their ringing telephone. He pushes them hard, initially with scant success. Fortunately, he receives some unexpected assistance.
Elling and Kjell Bjarne meet individuals who help them transition successfully to life outside of the institution. Elling, who has always considered himself a poet, meets an older poet, played by Vincent Clark, who becomes his friend and muse. Elling becomes quite famous in Oslo as he furtively slips his poems, simply signed “E,” into boxes of sauerkraut in supermarkets and earns the title “The Sauerkraut Poet.” Kjell Bjarne falls in love with a neighbor who, surprisingly, also falls in love with him. Tricia McCauley plays this lovesick woman very convincingly.
The book upon which “Elling” is based—sometimes titled Beyond the Great Indoors—may be difficult to find, but the movie is readily available from Netflix.com and amazon.com.
This article originally appeared in the May 23, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.