The slice of life that he brings to the stage is his own. Filled with pain and anger, hostility, loneliness, and alienation, it is, nevertheless, a solo performance that in the end brings the audience to its feet in a well-deserved minutes-long standing ovation.
Benjamin Scheuer, playwright, songwriter, and performer, has brought his guitars and his memories to the Geffen Playhouse for his Los Angeles debut and his final performances after an acclaimed two-year tour in Great Britain and the United States.
He calls his award-winning musical play “The Lion” after the semi-affectionate sobriquet given to him and his two brothers by their father, who called them his “lion cubs.” But after listening to Ben’s stories you begin to wonder if the lion refers to the three boys or to their misanthropic father.
As a small boy Ben was in awe of his father, not because he was a respected economist, but because he played a mean guitar. Ben’s only wish was to play the guitar like his father, but his father told him he would never play that well. Nevertheless, his father constructed a toy banjo for him made from an old cookie-tin and strings made of elastic bands. And Ben remains forever grateful to his father for introducing him to music and its joys — joys that have remained the prime focus of his life.
To accompany his powerful narration he turns to his six guitars, tuned differently to different chords, evoking the many moods of his story. His director is Sean Daniels, an award-winner who has shepherded plays and musicals through nearly every regional theater in America.
As Ben reveals, he became alienated from his father early on and when he was 13 his father died. Later, living in Greenwich Village and playing in local venues, he disassociated himself from his mother and his brothers too and continued to perfect his unique style — or styles — of playing.
His music, all written and composed by him, ranges from soft ballads to angry bomb bursts that rattle the walls. He sings about falling in love with a girl named Julia and composes whimsical songs for her. He experiments with various musical genres. And through it all he struggles to make his peace with his dead father.
It’s a coming-of-age story that everyone can understand and relate to, no matter what their own life experiences have been.
In the program that accompanies the performance Ben quotes popular mid-century lyricist Yip Harburg, who said “Words are how we think and music is how we feel, so songs allow us to think our feelings and feel our thoughts.” Ben illustrates this with an angry riff in which he thrashes his guitar so furiously that you almost expect the instrument to cry out in pain. Yet in another moment, on another guitar, he changes his mood and his tone and delivers a soft piece filled with poignant reflection.
“The Lion” is a mesmerizing story told with passion and unique artistry, and at the end of it you’ll be moved to join the rest of the audience in an emotional standing ovation. Enjoy!
“The Lion,” not to be confused with the current movie of the same name, will be presented at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave. in Westwood, Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. through February 19. For reservations call (310) 208-5454 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org.
Cynthia Citron has worked as a journalist, public relations director, documentary screenwriter and theater reviewer. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.