Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Bald Soprano and The Lesson - Eugene Ionesco

One of the masters of absurdist play,  Eugene Ionesco was always a playwright I wanted to read. It was thus important to start with his most celebrated plays. The new translations of his two most important plays , could possibly have been the best way to begin. I'm a great fan of the absurdist plays. Having read this book, I am still a bit hazy about the book. While the Lesson was superb and far too easy to comprehend and appreciate, The Bald Soprano was a bit of cause of concern. May be it demand another read.

The Bald Soprano, apparently the first play written and staged by Eugene Ionesco, has a connection with his learning English. Two English families, the Smiths and the Martins ( who visit the formers at their home) , evidently goes through the 'often irrelevant  conversation.  Joining by the local Fire Chief ( supposedly the lover of Mrs. Smith) joins the conversation of the group with his own stupid tales and the collective recital of some meaningless poems.  The trivial conversation turns into a group chant, post the departure of the fire chief, with the team shouting in unison "Dont say they are there. I hear they are here". The play ends with the Martins taing over the role of Smiths with an evident continuation of the same with a newer set of entrants.

The Lesson is more structured in language and flow. While the end is the beginning ( as in the case of The Bald Soprano), its fairly more straight forward. The timid Old Professor receives a new disciple for tuition. As the 'education' and 'testing of the intelligence' continue, the change of attitude and style of the professor takes gradual change, ending with the murder of the student. To me this is more of an actors play. It's the changes in the character progressively altering from timid to a angry , unhappy man  over a short span of time was brilliant., and the confident youth turning into a meek , quiet student.  The third cast , the maid of the Professor, is a silent witness to the whole thing, although she continue to warn the professor, not to take that path of discussion. As expected, the play ends with the beginning , with professor awaiting his next victim.

Both these are one act plays and have this 360 degree continuation of the plot, thus making it a never ending repetitions. Both these, part of his early stages as a playwright, uses the language and conversations as a major tool.  The Bals Soprano is a funny play ( though it comes to us as an Anti-Play) and is with often ridiculous and disconnected dialogues especially towards the end. May be its the inability with the language, the words, that causes the catastrophe. May be he was trying to imply the limitations of language in communicating to one another. They talk, talk nonsense, to themselves and to the audience. While the Lesson ( called a Comic Drama), is nothing comic about it ( except may be the mathematical lessons of counting).  The professors frustrations with his students inability to understand, the anger on his own inability to pass the knowledge turning his frustration to anger resulting in the death of the students. On the students part, the early confidence of her age and youthfulness is slowly giving way to fear as she is exposed to her own limited capabilities. 

The Lesson is brilliant, The Bald Soprano.. well, I don't know yet.
The Bald Soprano and The Lesson ( 1954)

Eugene Ionesco ( translated from French by Tina Howe 2006)

Grove Press

96 Pages
The Baldo Soprano, The Lesson

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