I once had a public speaking teacher suggest we occasionally step out from behind the podium. I tried it, but it was uncomfortable. The podium provided a wall of separation from the audience, protection. I didn’t like feeling naked in front of my peers.
Benjamin Scheuer faces a similar situation in his one-man musical “The Lion.” The show is autobiographical, delving into death, near-death, music and family relationships, particularly with his father.
Scheuer’s father was brilliant but volatile. Some of the playwright’s fondest memories are of dad playing guitar, making him a toy banjo, teaching him guitar. But there are other, harsher recollections as well. Scheuer has trouble reconciling these two iterations of his father, and it colors his relationships with his mother, siblings and girlfriend.
During the performance, Scheuer moves comfortably around the stage, picking up various guitars and singing about his life. His stage presence is amazing – even taking off a pair of socks evokes meaning. The songs are amusing, moving, even gut-wrenching, and he delivers as both a singer and musician.
But here’s the problem, while Scheuer is eager to sing about his life, he’s less comfortable talking about it. In a way, he plays two characters: the virtuoso musician Ben Scheuer who delivers sweet and bitter songs about love and relationships, and the man Ben Scheuer who wants to deflect with sparse narrative and dry humor. He feels safe behind his guitars.
As beautiful as this show is, with its very personal storyline, there’s a sense of distance. In between songs, Scheuer takes a few moments to talk, but just a few, a sentence or two. Those interludes are funny, heartbreaking and oh so short. I want more. I want Benjamin Scheuer, the man, to come out from behind his guitars and stand naked in front of me. But I don’t get that.
“The Lion” is enjoyable, and incredibly gutsy in so many ways. But I walked out feeling cheated.