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The Lesson

The Professor determines, after the arithmetic lesson, that the Pupil will only be able to pass the "partial doctorate" and, against the Maid's warning, proceedsto a philology lesson.

The Professor determines, after the arithmetic lesson, that the Pupil will only be able to pass the “partial doctorate” and, against the Maid’s warning, proceedsto a philology lesson.

Ionesco employs apparent nonsense — a synthesis of cliches derived from a multitude of sources like newspapers, proverbs and language — to reveal the vacuous lives of his automaton-like characters.

Ionesco’s genius lies in manipulating these cliches into obvious contradictions and false analogies, which mock complacent notions about the world. The production succeeds in conveying his ideas in this arena.

However, the actors spend too much time in carefully and slowly justifying the characters’ transitions and mood swings — this is, after all, not a realistic piece. Trimming these slow buildups would shed some of the excessive running time of the piece and would create a crisper product.

Bullock, after an aggravating and halting start, hits his stride as he passionately extols a pseudoscholarly compilation of nonsense, disdaining interruptions by the Pupil.

The engaging Guber seamlessly handles the gradual transition from gregarious to terrified, and Nicholson plays a caretaker to be reckoned with.

Maili Andreen’s authentic-appearing costumes and Ponti’s sumptuous, realistic set belie the evening’s surreal events, and are warmly lit by Ponti and Dean Reynolds’ design.

The Lesson

(Lee Strasberg Creative Center, Hollywood; 49 seats; $ 9 top)

Production: The Lee Strasberg Creative Institute with Anna Strasberg presents a play in one act by Eugene Ionesco. Director, Edoardo Ponti; set design, Ponti; lights, Ponti , Dean Reynolds; costumes, Maili Andreen. Opened June 2, 1995; reviewed June 16; runs through July 2. Running time: 90 min. The Professor ... Gary Bullock The Pupil ... Elizabeth Guber Marie, the Maid ... Mil Nicholson Aside from pacing problems, director Edoardo Ponti gently guides his cast in the molding of characters from Eugene Ionesco's enigmatic script. The idea that human language, effort and existence are essentially absurd is made explicit in this production. In the one-act absurdist work about the dangers of indoctrination, the Pupil (Elizabeth Guber) appears at the home of the Professor (Gary Bullock) to be coached for her "total doctorate" examination. As they settle down to work, the meek Professor becomes more and more intense and authoritarian; the Maid (Mil Nicholson) warns him to keep calm.

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