Welcome to the Jonsson’s: Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter

08/27/2014 4:00 AM |

Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar
Agnarsson Furniture Painter

Minetta Lane Theatre, 18-22 Minetta Lane

That wordy title might be warning enough to skeptical playgoers, but this new musical is so ghastly, so muddle-headed, and so disconnected from sense that it inspires awe and wonder, which are immediately cleared up, to some degree, by looking at the program. The writer of the book, music, and lyrics for the show is a fellow named Ivar Pall Jonsson, who hails from Iceland. It would appear he has no theater credits at all because he does not list any. Instead, he writes that he “made theater and music his life at the rather tender age of 37” and “perfected his craft by writing thousands of songs and doing a lot of creative writing.” The story is credited to Jonsson’s brother Gunnlaugur, who “has a background in business as well as writing.” Gunnlauger also has no theater credits.

And so the plot thickens. Who produced this high school-level affair, and why? How do two unknown writers from Iceland get a big professional production like this at the Minetta Lane Theatre? Well, someone named Karl Petur Jonsson produced the play. So this is an all-out Jonsson family affair! Karl Petur is a real cut-up in his bio, where he writes that his “apparent lack of any artistic talent has led him to producing entertainment.” That’s a funnier line than anything in this stupefyingly aimless musical.

The play is set in a small country that exists in the elbow of the titular furniture painter. The land falls under the sway of the money-making schemes of Peter (Marrick Smith), who has invented a machine that prints currency. Peter is in cahoots with Manuela (Cady Huffman), a shady lady who stalks around in 1940s-inspired costumes. Because hey, why not? Character relationships are nonexistent. There is no clear connection from one scene to the next or one song to the next. The only constant is that the Jonsson brothers seem to have a thing for Robert Redford, who they name- drop constantly for lame jokes. Their brotherly ineptitude might be harmlessly comic if they didn’t also display a nasty streak of misogyny when it comes to the character of the bossy Manuela, who has had her uterus bronzed and mounted on a wall for everyone to admire. That’s supposed to be as funny as the scene where Peter and his two brothers talk in Robert Redford titles to each other, but the only people who will find this funny are the brothers Jonsson, who presumably were knocking back a lot of brews when they wrote this. All the young actors and dancers try their best, which is why it’s hard to laugh at this thing even if you can’t laugh with it. By the end, there’s a hilariously simplistic denunciation of capitalism, which the brothers probably thought of as their “point,” but the only capitalistic lesson here is that it would seem that anyone who has enough money can rent a theater and put on anything they like.

One Comment

  • I totally respect your view of the material. Art, after all, is totally subjective. There are rooms full of white canvasses and pieces of debris at the Dia Museum in Beacon considered “great art” that I just don’t get. That’s fine. But I don’t know how you could be so dismissive of the awesome talent in this show. Cady Huffman was amazing as always and Marrick Smith WILL be a big, big star in a couple of years, if not sooner. His performance alone was worth the price of the ticket. That’s all part of the “show” and to imply it was a bunch of young kids who “tried hard” is very narrow. Was is avant garde? Oh, yeah. Was it entertaining? You bet. Take that from somebody who saw it four (that’s right, 4) times and enjoyed it thoroughly every time. And I wasn’t the only one to go multiple times. You must live in a very small world.