“What makes a lion a lion?”
Alone onstage with seven guitars, Benjamin Scheuer sings, “My father has an old guitar, and he plays me folk songs.” That’s the start of Benjamin’s passion for music, but it’s also a cause for his troubled relationship with his father. Depressed and quick to anger, Benjamin’s father worries that music is distracting his son from schoolwork. A fight results—a fight they never have the chance to patch up, because Benjamin’s father falls ill and dies. “Now there’s no breath, no sound, no light—damn you for dying while we’re in a fight.”
Benjamin tries to take care of his little brothers, but he ends up moving away from his family and losing touch. A brilliant girlfriend inspires clever songs but ultimately leaves, and Benjamin is alone when he is diagnosed with cancer. His struggle brings his estranged family to his side. “It’s not the roar that makes the lion, it’s the pride.”
Scheuer’s storytelling style is conversational and even. He acknowledges the audience (when someone dropped something, he broke script and asked, “You guys all right there?… I know you’re here!”) and treats us as friends. There’s no melodrama in his speeches; his descriptions of his father’s bursts of temper are understated, and his account of his father’s illness and death is a level drone. The music and the story provide the emotion. Twangy folk pieces punctuate Benjamin’s childhood, while throbbing electric guitar chords underscore his youthful rebellion. Scheuer’s skillful, energetic playing is complimented by his singing voice—a rough-edged, untrained instrument with true pitch and a powerful belt.
This autobiography is serious. I found it hard to keep my eyes dry as Benjamin suffered through chemotherapy, developed an understanding of his father (“You didn’t want me to play like you… I’ve learned to play like me”), and realized the importance of family. But Scheuer also finds plenty of humor in his life. Some excellent laugh-provoking lines: Benjamin and his girlfriend pretending to be “drunk Parisian mimes” and “the problem with New York City is that when you are twenty-five pounds underweight and gauntly skinny, people will come up to you and say, ‘Oh my god, you look amazing!’… I am literally dying”).
I found it hard to keep my eyes dry as Benjamin suffered through chemotherapy
The Lion is about thoughts and feelings rather than actions, so the small stage of the A.C.T.’s Strand Theater and Neil Patel’s living-room-like set are the right venue. Scheuer moves naturally around, usually sitting in the center but sometimes strolling to another mic or fetching another guitar. The lighting (by Ben Stanton) shifts between the narrow focus of a solo concert and the broad, warm beams of a home.
With The Lion, Benjamin Scheuer and Director Sean Daniels have created a musical worthy of pride. Funny, moving, and honest, with witty lyrics and varied music, this one-man show is not to be missed.