Published November 16, 2012

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You are watching: The lesson play


2.5 out of 4 stars

title The Lesson written by Eugene Ionesco Genre Play command by Soheil Parsa gibbs David Ferry, Michelle Monteith Venue reduced Ossington Theatre City Toronto Year 2012

Isn"t it constantly the way? you wait and also wait to see a single professional manufacturing of a standard 1950s absurdist play, and then they all come at once.

Hot on the heels that Soulpepper"s superlative revival of Samuel Beckett"s Endgame, modern-day Times phase Company"s Soheil Parsa is currently serving up part solid Eugène Ionesco through The Lesson.

On Thursday, Canadian Stage included Max Frisch"s satire The Arsonists to the mix. Include a smack that Jean Genet and we could speak to it a festival.


English-speaking critics, especially those v leftish leanings, have long had a difficulty with the post-war metaphysical masterpieces lumped with each other as the "theatre the the absurd." just recently, the Guardian"s Michael Billington said that absurdism was basically irrelevant, "a motion that has lost the momentum and also one that is of small help in explaining to united state the complexities of today"s world."

Indeed, if you prefer your theatre come "explain" things, climate you may find The Lesson frustrating. However the serious problem with that human being desire for explanations ceded by artists or teachers, prophets or politicians, is just one of the still-fresh themes of this early Eugène Ionesco work.


For his production, Parsa has reunited gibbs David Ferry and also Michelle Monteith, who previously played the functions of predator and prey so exceptionally 2 autumns earlier in an award-drenched production of sarah Kane"s Blasted.

The older, maler gibbs of the two, Ferry, dram the Professor, pull in a mortar-board hat, graduate robes and round glasses choose a cartoon owl. The Pupil, played by one alarmingly youthful Monteith, who seems to be aging Benjamin button style, is prim and proper in one old-fashioned institution uniform.

At first, the Professor – regardless of a discomfiting stutter and palpable sexual awkwardness – genuinely make the efforts to assist his pupil know the rudiments the subtraction.

Gradually, however, his lesson setup makes less and less sense. The Professor goes indigenous lecturing come hectoring and also tries to cram his theories about languages such as Spanish, Neo-Spanish and Oriental down the Pupil"s throat. No wonder she creates a toothache, which soon spreads.

Written in 1951, The Lesson features as a kind of dramatic companion to George Orwell"s famous essay on politics and also language; it"s an strike on a degraded type of discourse that the Romanian-French writer Ionesco would later deride together "nothing however clichés, north formulas, and also slogans." Nothing appropriate to our public discourse today, that course.


Like Orwell, Ionesco – whose father to be a Nazi, then a Stalinist stooge – was opposed come totalitarianism, left or right. (His suspicion of socialist rhetoric to be the subtext of his 1958 battle with the Brecht-loving British movie critic Kenneth Tynan.) Those concerns are clearest as soon as the Professor"s maid – played here by a deliciously dry, cross-dressing Costa Tovarnisky – arrives on the scene so late in the play to clean up her employer"s mess. She hand the gibbering teacher one armband: "If you"re afraid, undertake this, climate you won"t have actually anything to be fear of."

Parsa – who recalls reading this beforehand Ionesco play as soon as he to be at Tehran University before the Islamic revolution in Iran – emphasizes The Lesson"s anti-totalitarian themes with Thomas Ryder Payne"s sound design: scraping sounds, gunfire and also the creak the a hefty metallic door saying a torture chamber. Likewise, the Professor"s delicate, politically exactly tip-toeing about his student"s mistakes ultimately turns into goose-stepping.

With this fulsome foreshadowing, Parsa sometimes gets ahead of the play. It"s the very same thing because that Ferry"s Professor who, v sweaty strands that hair squiggling the end of his cap, is plainly a creep from the get-go.

Ferry"s performance is outstanding from a technical standpoint, with his hiccups and flashes of frightening fervour, but his initiative was still an extremely much on display at The Lesson"s final preview. The Professor"s tics and also poses had actually yet come cohere right into a convincing character.

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On the various other hand, Monteith seems less to it is in performing 보다 to be possessed. She Pupil is the very snapshot of a sweet schoolgirl till the Professor slices through her strings and she transforms into a suffering, wrong marionette. Ns can"t define her chilling looks: She"s mythological or something.