What are the odds two Norwegian works would be on the boards? They've just upped, thanks to Elling, starring Denis O'Hare and Brendan Fraser as two misfits struggling to survive, and Rosmersholm, the Ibsen classic that savages party politics and familial guilt.
Fraser is making his Broadway debut at the Barrymore, alongside Jennifer Coolidge, best known for her goofy turns in Christopher's Guest's mockumentaries, like Best of Show. Many are coming just to see big names, including Tony winner O'Hare, and they won't be disappointed with the performances.
The show itself is quirky and unsettling, based on the oddball Elling books that were a hit in Norway. Elling, played to tightly wound perfection by O'Hare, is a repressed, but intelligent man obsessed with his dead mother. He's been hermetically sealed socially, communicative but anxious. His partner-in-crazy Kjell, played convincingly by Fraser, is a loopy sex-obsessed virgin, several IQ points short of functional. Together, they navigate life outside the mental hospital with the help of their social worker (Jeremy Shamos). Their fumbling efforts underscore both the fragility of human nature and the importance of friendship.
As Elling moves into poetic anarchy -- in a stunt that sums up Nordic peculiarities -- and Kjell falls for his new neighbor, their world expands. We're treated to a kooky, but potent reminder of the profound necessity for connection. Elling is an off-beat play; the comedy derives largely from two bizarre personalities clashing with themselves and others. This small, screwy story, slightly overwhelmed on a big stage, carries a deeper message.
A century earlier, Ibsen, who often railed at Norway's reactionary tendencies, was all about social statements. In Rosmersholm at City Center, the Pearl Theater Company smoothly tackles the hypocrisy and cruelty of politics. It's 1885; Norway, a traditional country, has just elected the liberal party. The old guard is bitter at its loss of power -- and fanatical at railing against socialism and the common man. Dr. Kroll (a weak Austin Pendleton) defends the conservative party.
His speeches sound like a Tea Party candidate. By contrast, Johannes Rosmer (a terrific Branford Cover), the scion of the town's leading family, is a latter-day Obama: conciliatory, but progressive. He wants to spread democracy and ennoble mankind. He's joined in such pursuits by friend Rebecca (Margot White), who hopes to liberate him from past miseries. Rosmer is sullied by political foes, which are happy to smear a former friend with lies, provided it serves their ends.
On the left, Mortensgaard (Domnic Cuskern) is eager to embrace Rosmer as an ex-Christian -- if he remains a pastor. If not, he's useless as a figurehead to the party. Mortensgaard advocates for enlightened policies, but in essence, "gives people a shape for their mediocrity." Left or right, politics is a nasty business; Isben's take is utterly modern. Which is to say, the monologues sound like current cable pundits. In the realm of government, nothing has fundamentally changed -- and that keeps the play fresh.
Rosmer's personal obsession with his dead wife, the guilt that overrides common sense, is particular to many Ibsen works. The playwright notes the tender state of Rosmer's psyche; the trials of a decent man bullied by baser instincts. While all the performers, save Pendleton, are solid, the direction is iffy. Moving speeches are often delivered down stage; with the speaker's back to the audience. This insightful show, which gets sets, lighting and tone right, just needs to tighten execution.
Precision timing is the province of Momentum, the latest show from Mayumana, an astounding Israeli theater company that combines music, movement and innovative staging. Stomp-like in its unstoppable beat, the troupe has an international cast that performs an explosion of physical feats married to cool theatrical effects. The upcoming show at the New Victory, Dec. 2-Jan 2, explores concepts of time and space. No two Momentum shows are alike -- audiences are invited to help create the show itself.
The multicultural Mayumana was founded in Israel in 1997; since then, it's staged its virtuosity before more than 5 million people in over 70 major cities worldwide. The brand is synonymous with energy and creativity. Premiering in Madrid, Momentum is a celebration of sight, sound and motion -- based on the perception of time and synchronization. New artistic elements, such as singing and video clips, are integrated into the high-voltage effort. Make time to be dazzled.