Imagine a mob comedy got in a car, took off at high speed and ended up in the great Midwest. Got it? And thus was created The Norwegians. An oddly entertaining dark comedy by C. Denby Swanson that attempts to combine the patter of a mob comedy with dour but nice Scandinavians, and largely it succeeds well.
The Norwegians makes good use of expected gambits such as hit men applying business think to their practice and occasionally playing with the Midwest accent. Then it goes much further along regional lines than might be expected. So that not only are the characters of the hit men expressed by strong association with their home state, but all the characters are strongly associated in that way. Clients, Olive (Veronica Cruz) and Betty (Karla Hendrick) are identified with their respective home states, Texas and Kentucky. While not to the same degree, the stereotypes are incorporate and then consciously indentified and explored by the characters as a way of expressing where they are and how they feel about what is happening. In a culture that so strongly defines as “American”, there is surprising humorous mileage in the regional nuance being used in much the same way as astrology. Or in the case of Olive, both are used in wildly gyrating gambits to figure herself out. In opposition to that, Betty defines herself by a hard core comment to hatred of all things Midwest/Norwegian and that is wonderfully exploited by the intense and hilarious performance of Karla Hendrick.
Frankly, both women should never have been casually dropped by a man and that two men have is the foundation of a number of twists fueling the plot.
The Norwegian (full blood and partial portrayed respectively by Hamilton Clancy and Dan Teachout) hit men may be blindsided by these clients, but they have plenty of conflict of their own between trying to grow a business and the disparity between partial and full Norwegian blood. While not as deeply exploited, the strong comic potential of the minute differences between these characters is utilized well and if not necessarily going beyond expectations, certainly is fully entertaining.
Although the play does seem to sometimes run too firmly in the middle between fluffy light hearted comedy and something darker, it does work. However there are intriguing glimmers of edginess, just how deep Karla’s hatred could go without apology or how extreme the Super Norwegian that is Tor (Hamilton Clancy) judges the world, that the play constantly veers away from - are what just could put it to another level. Underneath the well made play finish, may just lurk varden that is wickedly funny.
Do not mistake me, The Norwegians is a thoroughly enjoyable production with much stronger design than showcases consistently receive. Jennifer Verbalow’s economic and yet evocative set is especially appreciated but the lights (Tyler Learned) and Costumes (Mimi Maxmen) are also strong and add polish. Elowyn Castle keeps her cast all in the same slightly off kilter world and moving it along with energy that doesn’t exceed speed limits but never lags. Indeed The Norwegians is a Midwest ride worth taking.