The Theatre and Dance Department at Gustavus puts on numerous shows every year, but the next play is a type that may never have been seen before and may never be seen again. Performances of The Lesson are Nov. 20-22 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 23 at 2 p.m. Tickets for each performance have already sold out.
The Lesson falls under the genre of absurdist drama, but do not be confused by the word’s connotations. “There is baggage with the phrase ‘theater of the absurd.’ We think of absurd as something that is weird and we can dismiss it. When we label something weird, the conversation ends, and we feel entitled to dismiss something and say, ‘Oh, that’s just weird,’ and then there is nothing else to do,” said Director of The Lesson Henry MacCarthy, who is also an assistant professor of theater and dance.
The play is about a student who goes for a private lesson with a young professor living in town because she wants to take the exams that will qualify her for a doctoral degree. In the process, she has certain expectations, as does the professor, and many scenarios present themselves as a result.
“We learn what happens when teaching and learning are set in a structure that is hermetic and doesn’t allow for flexibility,” said MacCarthy.
“The relationships we have and how those form and switch is what the whole play is all about,” said Junior Philosophy Major and cast member Shane Jensen.
The cast is comprised of only five performers. Sophomore Bethany Ringdal is the professor, Jensen is the student and Junior Biology Major Jordan Klitzke is the maid.
Senior Biology Major Christine Dornbusch and Junior Communications Studies Major Kelly Nelson are also members of the cast. However, the genders of the cast members are neutralized. Male actors play female characters and vice versa. “[The Director] made that an intentional choice that we knew about during the auditions,” said Klitzke.
The size of the cast presents unique challenges for everyone involved.
“You just have to endlessly work with the text, and two of us have to stay on stage the entire show constantly talking. With this play it is not about the set or the characters,” said Klitzke.
“It is about the language and the people,” said Klitzke.
Another unique component of the play is the size of the audience. Each show will take place in Anderson Theatre, but only 42 tickets were sold for each performance.
“It is a small piece that requires a small amount of actors and a small amount of space,” said MacCarthy. The length of the play is also small, at an estimated hour and fifteen minutes.
So what exactly makes this play so absurdist and unique? “[The play has] more like a ‘what the!’ factor. There are some dark humorous moments and some too dark for people to laugh at,” said Jensen.
These dark moments are dark “in a really good way that makes you think about how the world functions … so don’t be scared by its weirdness,” said Ringdal.
“It is so intense. My body ends up in pain because my body tenses up just looking at them,” said MacCarthy.
Ultimately, the play serves as a comic tragedy. “It is very funny. You notice how sometimes you laugh, you start laughing, and then you can’t stop laughing and then it starts to hurt? That’s this type of play,” said MacCarthy.
“It is something completely unique that I don’t think has been done at Gustavus and probably won’t be again. It is really a unique experience and you don’t see art at Gustavus like this very often,” said Klitzke.