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A Minute With: Icelandic writer on setting a musical in an elbow

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sometimes the best way to get to the heart of a story is through the elbow, said Ivar Pall Jonsson, the Icelandic creator of the new rock musical "Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter."

The musical, which debuts on Wednesday at the Minetta Lane Theater in New York, is about the consequences of the global financial crisis of 2008, which triggered the collapse of Iceland's banking system and resulted in the criminal convictions of some of its leaders.

"Despite the serious nature of the subject, the piece is meant to entertain - first and foremost," said Jonsson, a former journalist from Reykjavik.

He put the cautionary tale in a surreal setting because he said it allowed him to simplify and focus on the heart of the story.

Jonsson spoke to Reuters about where the idea for the musical about love and deception in Elbowville originated, and why he set the musical in an elbow.

Q: Why did you write "Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter"?

A: Writing music is a necessity for me, and I get really restless if I don’t have my guitar around. This restlessness of the mind also means I have a constant flow of ideas in my head, and I am particularly fascinated by people, in their never ending variety.

I love the idea of a person, whom many would probably find rather unattractive, a furniture painter couch potato, and the thought of a society of tiny people living inside him ...

And I had a story to tell. It is a story that is highly relevant to everyone in the world today. I don’t think I should say more right now. Let’s just say that this story collides the things that matter in life; family, love and humanity, with false prosperity. It’s certainly a critique of the financial system of the world, but perhaps not exactly in the way you might think. I think the greatest evil is in the system – not the people. Most people want to do good.

Q: Where did the idea for setting this in an elbow come from?

A: I find it fascinating to imagine an entire world inside a person, and I think it’s fun. I also wanted to tell the story in an abstract way. I wanted to convey the heart of it, without the distraction of certain persons or specific events. So, I chose this surreal setting. It allows me to simplify and focus on the heart of the story.

Q: Why the elbow and not the knuckle, knee or some other body part?

A: This boils down to a basic existential question. Are we really sure we’re not inside someone’s elbow? What is on the other side of the Big Bang? We don’t know why we’re here.

Q: Is there a real town that inspired Elbowville?

A: I experienced the financial bubble and subsequent crash in Iceland. I suppose Elbowville is inspired by that fact. It’s a backwater town inside Ragnar Agnarsson’s body, where the inhabitants can travel to foreign countries such as Texass, The Hills of Kidney and Hipsburg.

Q: Is this a morality play?

A: This is a story of what happens when people lose themselves in an artificial world, where they are shielded from reality, until it hits them in the face.

In general, these are good people, who mean well. They convince themselves that what they do is furthering prosperity, while the opposite is true. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. The answer to financial violence is not more violence. It is love. It is a personal revolution, where you decide not to enable them and their system anymore. 

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with "Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter"?

A: I hope I will be able to move people and make them think. My art is about finding the common ground between us all – this shared humanity and empathy. And, it’s time to wake up from the virtual reality and face the world, through a peaceful personal revolution.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Gunna Dickson)

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