As the audience enters, the preset is a bare stage with a giant projection on the back wall of the stage of a slovenly man, Ragnar Agnarsson, who seems to be dozing. His figure is huge and takes up most of the back wall. Now and again he moves, picks his nose, scratches his arm. As the show begins we are given a multimedia tour of Agnarsson's body from Texass to Eyesocket, and Knee York to Hipsburg. Eventually we land in Elbowville.
As far as premises for a musical go, it is brimming with promise, but delivers on none of it. This musical, shy a couple of anatomically geographical jokes, could have taken place in almost any mythical place. There was no firm connection between the plot and the fact that it took place in this man's elbow (or any part of the body for that matter). There is one possible correlation between the concept of a body and its analogy to the world at large. I think the setting of the play could best be summed up by the play's own Kolbein (Patrick Boll), the henchman to the mayor of Elbowville, Manuella (Cady Huffman), "Ragnar Agnarsson is a furniture painter, but that is totally irrelevant information. He is just the oblivious setting for the events you are about to be witness to."
The problems laid bare in Revolution in the Elbow… are symbolic of the actual financial problems faced by Iceland between 2008 and 2011. In this fictionalized version this includes the printing of worthless promissory notes being spewed out as if by machine (which they are here via the prosperity machine, really nothing but a copy machine).
Three brothers, Peter (Marrick Smith), Alex (Graydon Long) and Stein (Brad Nacht) sing of their inseparability in a song called "Let's Make an Oath." Immediately after this, we see Peter betray his awkward brother Alex as they fight over the same girl, Brynja (Jesse Wildman).
An already prosperous place, Elbowvillians derived a healthy income from trapping lobsters in the Lymphatic Channels. They weren't happy with this and greed overcame them. Peter presented the idea of the prosperity machine to Manuella. For a while, Peter looks like the hero of our story, until his financial scheme begins to unravel and the town is quickly searching for him and his brothers.
Revolution in the Elbow… has a book, music and lyrics by Ívar Páll Jónsson with a story by Jónsson and Gunnlauger Jónsson . The music can best be described as rock, with Bowie and Radiohead as inspiration. Unfortunately, the score never goes full throttle until the band plays the "walk-out" music as the audience is exiting. The music is monotonous and seems to adhere to a strict rhythm of some invisible metronome.
Early in the production, the three brothers go to a carnival. Peter decides he wants to see the "sexy thing." What this thing is is not clearly articulated but we know it has no limbs and that it's sexy. This is another example in the production where a device is set up and no further connection to the rest of the piece is ever forthcoming.
While sprinkled with bits of humor ("and don't even get me started on Penisylvania. Those pricks.") there is no consistently funny premise in the piece. The one possible exception is the town's belief that Robert Redford (whom they have seen from Eyesockette) is their deity and Hollywood is Heaven. Throughout the evening, there are continual references to "Thank Bob" (instead of thank God) and other insertions of the use of Bob instead of God. At one point, the three brothers share a prayer:
"Oh dear Bob of Hollywood, protect us! Oh thou Great Gatsby and Horse Whisperer in the sky. May you put an end to all injustice like Brubaker in your just search for the dead. I will be your Candidate even if I'm just Ordinary People. Let a River Run Through It."
In the lead role of Peter, Smith is handsome and it isn't hard to conceive of him winning over anyone he tries to charm. Smith has an attractive voice, though at times the demands made upon his upper register by the show's score are not always satisfactorily met. As his brother Alex, Long has a lovely singing voice and handles the milk-toast character confidently.
The female characters are the most thankless roles in the musical. Huffman, while in great voice, is cast as the greedy mayor. What possessed her to take this role is beyond me. Jesse Wildman as Brynja does get one of the better numbers in the show, "Love Weighs 200 Tons." She sings this with Graydon Long and the two share a beautifully staged pas-de-deux with a shadow couple that is projected on the back wall. You believe it to be their shadows until the shadows begin to argue with one another. This mix of technology and choreography is well blended.
Continuing in the thankless role department is Kate Shindle as Asrun, who marries Stein. Her role is nothing but a stereotypical shrew.
In a star-turn, Rick Faugno is Mandrake from Monbrezt Credit Ratings who arrives to tell Peter that the jig is up and that the town's credit rating has been downgraded. Faugno does a fine turn with his slick rendition of the musical number "Midas Reborn."
The production has been infused with a frenetic energy by director Bergur Ingólfsson. The choreography by Lee Proud keeps pace but is not particularly exciting.
The costume design by Hrafnhildur Amardóttir and Edda Gudmundsdóttir looks cheap and doesn't always flatter the actors. Ms. Huffman is the worst victim of their handiwork with her last outfit being the most egregious to her figure.
The projections by Petr Hloušek add a touch of realism as we travel through this man's body. Hloušek is also responsible for the minimalist set that consists of a catwalk that circumnavigates the sides and back wall of the stage with PVC tubing spread across the walls of the theatre and the stage like arteries and veins in Ragnar Agnarsson's body. The lighting which also aids the inter-body mise-en-scene is by Jeff Croiter and Cory Pattak.
Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter disappoints and never lives up to its full surreal potential. Perhaps it has to do with the unique Icelandic sense of humor and sensibility.