AN ABSURD EVENING . . . THE LESSON AND RATS, at the Shattered Globe Theatre. A middle-aged professor is so chagrined by an obtuse female pupil that he attacks her violently–no, it’s not David Mamet’s Oleanna but Eugene Ionesco’s The Lesson. Written in 1950, it’s a perennial favorite among student actors anxious to exploit what they perceive to be its stalker-prey dynamic. But director Leigh Horsley, in this Shattered Globe and National Pastime Theatre production, recognizes the absurdist play for the farce it is, with the educated adult male reduced to infantile frustration by his maid, a controlling mother surrogate, and his student, a self-absorbed seductress. The chief reason to stay up for this late-night offering, however, is Doug McDade. Having finally learned to use his hands for expression and not punctuation, he’s magnificent as the academic, his rambling discourses on linguistic theory less nonsensical in this time of deconstructionism than Ionesco could ever have imagined.
The second part of this program of two one-acts is Israel Horovitz’s Rats, a facile snippet of racist agitprop in which Jebbie and Bobbie, two urban scavengers, debate whether to peacefully coexist or join the “get whitey” revolution. What makes this oversimplistic view of economic tensions worthwhile is the electricity between the quietly menacing Arch Harmon and the explosive Michael Hargrove, one of the most intriguing tag teams on the Chicago theater scene. Directed by Laurence Bryan, they deliver the kind of one-two punch remembered by theatergoers long after the contenders have gone on to bigger and better things.