Monday, January 18, 2016

Theater Review: The Lion -- Long Wharf


Benjamin Scheuer. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Autobiographical Story, Songs Strike a Poignant Melodic Chord
By Lauren Yarger
Some stories just have to be sung we’re told in the subtitle of “The Lion playing at Long Wharf Theatre.

And we’re grateful writer/performer Benjamin Scheuer understands that as he shares this love song to his father in a deeply moving and personal memoir which won him a 2015 Drama Desk Award for Best Solo Performance.

As a young boy, Benjamin is in awe of his folk-singing, guitar playing father. The opening number lovingly remembers how his dad made him a banjo out of a cookie tine so he could play along. It’s charming and Scheuer, with his boyish good looks and winning smile is charming.

But then, with the jolt of the wrong chord spoiling a melody, the story suddenly turns dark. The music loving dad isn’t always fun to be around. A volatile temper and depression make living in the home with his parents and two younger brothers a challenge. When his father tells Benjamin he can’t go on a back trip because his grades are slipping, the two have an argument that results in estrangement and guilt-ridden consequences for young Ben.

Later, music tells the story of his battle with cancer and how the family he took for granted rallies around him. Armed with six different guitars on a simply dressed set (design by Neil Patel), Scheuer sings his way through the emotions of life while learning about love and forgiveness. In a nice touch, mood can be heard in the type of guitar played (acoustic for light melody, for example, and electric rock for harder issues). And "The Lion," by the way, refers to a song his dad sang when he was little about what makes a lion a lion. Is it his roar?

Director Sean Daniels helps guide the performer through the blast of emotions to find a sharp, melodic tune. We feel for what Scheuer has been through and admire a person who seems to be upbeat about life despite its difficulties. It’s quite a satisfying 75 minutes with no intermission. That smile is contagious.

Long Wharf is a tour stop for Scheuer, who also will be singing his tale in Washington DC and Pittsburgh (and as a side note, it began development right here in Connecticut at the Goodspeed. Visit benjaminscheuer.com for more information.

The Lion plays through Feb. 7 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Wednesday and Sunday at 2 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm. Tickets $25-$85
 (203) 787-4282; www.longwharf.org. Enjoy a listen at the video below.


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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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