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“The Lion”

Long Wharf Theatre

 

Long Wharf Theatre is currently presenting “The Lion,” Benjamin Scheuer’s beautiful and moving autobiographical solo show that was previously seen in an acclaimed run in New York in 2014. Written and performed by the gloriously talented Mr. Scheuer, “The Lion” is a 70 minute production detailing, both in song and spoken word, this man’s journey from boyhood to his early adulthood, including his bout with a rare form of cancer and his troubled history with his family, including, most especially, his relationship with his father. While all this may make “The Lion” sound like something of a downer, it is anything but: this is a truly joyful evening of theatre and one of the strongest one-person plays that I have ever seen. It is recommended that you get to Long Wharf Theatre to see “The Lion,” for this show often feels like a transcendental theatrical experience.

When the audience enters the theatre, the curtain is up and Neil Patel’s gleaming set is immediately on display. What one sees is a stage full of various chairs, microphones, and, most pointedly, six guitars. These guitars are of extreme importance because Benjamin Scheuer uses all of them during the show to tell his life story. The songs that this performer has written are sublime and touching and are as important (if not more important) to “The Lion” then the dialogue in the show. Director Sean Daniels works sensationally in accordance with Mr. Scheuer in staging the show and, together, they make “The Lion” feel like a gorgeously played guitar riff that echoes hauntingly throughout the theatre.

This show is also blessed with a wonderful lighting designer, Ben Stanton, as well as a masterful sound designer, Leon Rothenberg—their combined efforts only add to the power of this production. But, ultimately, the real story onstage is the work of Benjamin Scheuer. He has an easy and comforting rapport with the audience right from the start which grows more and more riveting as he talks about his life. And while the spoken sections of “The Lion” are quite funny and insightful, when Mr. Scheuer sings and plays each of those six guitars, he soars towards the heavens. He performs songs for each portion of his life and all of them are filled with joyous wonder and deep passion. It must be said that, for a solo show that runs just a little over an hour, I have rarely experienced such a full and gratifying evening of theatre.

Director Sean Daniels keeps the show moving smoothly throughout and, visually, “The Lion” is certainly a good-looking production. And its writer/star’s contributions are truly enthralling. “The Lion” is a play that is filled with a lot of pain and sadness, as it touches upon the difficulties that Benjamin Scheuer experienced growing up. But what one is left with from “The Lion” is a tale of triumph, both from the spirit and especially from the magic that this performer conjures up when he plays each of his guitars. “The Lion” is a real treasure of a show, both humorous and moving, and we are lucky that Mr. Scheuer has decided to bring his transfixing presence and powerful story to Long Wharf Theatre.

“The Lion” continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT through February 7, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.

 

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