Denis O’Hare, star of new Broadway comedy
Featured in TDF’s Stages
Denis O’Hare, star of ELLING, the new Broadway comedy, is featured in Theatre Development Fund’s Stages this week. Directed by Tony Award winner Doug Hughes, ELLING also stars Brendan Fraser, Jennifer Coolidge Richard Easton and Jeremy Shamos. ELLING is currently in previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (243 West 47th Street), will open this Sunday, November 21 and will play a strictly limited engagement through March 20, 2011.
Building Character: Denis O’Hare
By Mark Blankenship
November 17, 2010
The Tony Award winner plays an offbeat poet in Elling
When we first meet Elling, the title character in the Broadway play now at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, he’s hiding in a wardrobe. From his roommate. In a mental hospital.
His behavior is just as quirky in the outside world: Somewhere between his disastrous attempt to order pizza and his decision to hide original poems in boxes of sauerkraut, it becomes clear that Elling is not like other guys.
Yet there is something familiar about him. Elling charms because Elling, his roommate Kjell, and their pregnant neighbor Reidun are strange people facing everyday problems. When they’re ordering in a restaurant and there’s no more soup, they don’t just get disappointed: They have a conniption fit. We can laugh at them because we recognize our own tendency to turn small nuisances into global news.
Of course, getting us to laugh is delicate work. “This play is a tightrope,” says Denis O’Hare, who plays Elling. “It has a very narrow shelf you can exist on. If we are too casual about these guys, then we don’t pay homage to their unique circumstance. You kind of go, ‘Well, why is he in an asylum? He looks like a normal Joe.’ But if we go in the direction of making them too mentally ill, the audience won’t laugh because you’re not going to make fun of someone you feel is ill.”
When O’Hare read the play, he didn’t even consider Elling’s illness. “I approached him as ‘normal.’ I approached him as a typical character like Mercutio,” he says. “For me, the challenge was to make sure that I didn’t overlook the diagnostic aspects. I had to do some reading on Asperger’s and think about the fact, ‘Well, he’s actually a little different because of these things.’”
Ultimately, he still approaches Elling as a person first. He says, “It’s helpful to look at real mental illness, but then you have to leave it all behind and kind of just go, ‘But these guys are human, and they’re dealing with a human problem, so what is that?’ In this case, it’s the discovery of friendship, the testing of friendship, and the triumph of friendship.”
ELLING is based on the popular original novels by Ingvar Ambjørnsen and adapted for the Oscar nominated film and the stage by Axel Hellstenius and Petter Næss, in a new English adaptation by critically hailed writer Simon Bent. ELLING played the West End and was nominated for the Lawrence Olivier Award for Comedy of the Year.
Set in the current day, ELLING is a comedy about a wildly mismatched pair of roommates trying to embrace life, love, friendship, pizza, poetry and women. Denis O’Hare plays obsessive/compulsive Elling. Brendan Fraser, plays the wildly enthusiastic gentle giant Kjell. Jennifer Coolidge plays Reidun, the object of Kjell’s considerable affection, Richard Easton plays Alfons, Elling’s unlikely poet mentor and Jeremy Shamos plays Frank, an inquisitive social worker.
The design team is comprised of Scott Pask (set), Kenneth Posner (lighting), Catherine Zuber (costumes) and David Van Tieghem (composer/sound designer).
Tickets are available through Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200, or in person at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street. Ticket prices range from $46.50 to $126.50 (all prices include $1.50 facilities fee).
The performance schedule is Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm. Beginning, Tuesday, November 23, all Tuesday performances will begin at 7pm. Thanksgiving week, there will be no performance on Thursday, November 25 and, an additional performance on Monday, November 22 at 7pm.