score: S-T-choir-synth / 1976 / Premjera Klaipėdos jaunimo teatre 2014 11 29
In Connection with La Leçon of Eugène Ionesco
In The Lesson, it is not the story that matters, nor the characters Ionesco depicts. The Lesson embodies what he called a "pure" drama that represents an "exemplary action of a universal nature." It is an exemplary action of enough importance that he considered it in his notes on theatre: "I would like to be able, sometimes, for my part, to strip theatrical action of all that makes it a theatrical action; its plot, the accidental features of the characters, their names, their social status, their historical background, the apparent reasons of the dramatic conflict, all justifications, all explanations, all the logic of the conflict.... " (pp. 297-298). In the face-off of a pupil and a professor, we are confronted with the dynamics between ability and knowledge. One can, of course, imagine the subjectivity of knowledge imposed by any totalitarian regime but also the violence inherent in any learning situation. Mathematical logic is, after all, the only system the mind can resist, but at the risk of suffering... Violence against nature appears in the series of lessons that lead to the death of the pupils - some smart enough to blame the professor - but the violence will end there. Even the maid, who incarnates the last gasps of her employer's conscience, will not prevent the deadly lessons from continuing.
With The Lesson, Ionesco gives us a perfect example of a theatrical construction as he defines it: "A play is a construction, made up of a series of situations or states of consciousnesses which intensify, become increasingly dense, then knot themselves up, either to unravel or to end in unbearable complexity" (p. 339). The spectator takes part in these "states of consciousnesses" until the intolerable rape. He/she undergoes and feels pupil's pain, and suddenly begins to ask questions: why do human beings have such a hard time with subtraction--an idea about which Ionesco goes on at length? And if this resistance to subtraction was only one reflection of the fear of death, the basis of Ionesco's writing: "I always had the impression that communication was impossible, an impression of loneliness, a gap; I write to fight against this imprisonment; I also write to shout out my fear of dying, the humiliation dying makes me feel" (p. 309)
Yet Ionesco wrote a comic drama in which comedy mixes with moments of tyranny and the violence of the professor... But in spite of existence's dictatorial nature, one must carry on. What could be better than derision or puns in the face of pain in order to escape from the existential suffering and the final subtraction?
Catherine Masson, Wellesley College
Translation from the original French text by Andrew Wallis