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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Benjamin’s Scheuer Plays Six Guitars and One Audience in The Lion

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Benjamin Scheuer with his cast of characters - MATTHEW MURPHY
  • Matthew Murphy
  • Benjamin Scheuer with his cast of characters
In Benjamin’s Scheuer’s one-man musical show, The Lion (now playing at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater), he takes the lead alongside a cast of six guitars, some of which literally play the roles of the guitars of his past. He earnestly, playfully, and sometimes painfully plays each instrument, tying roughly a dozen songs together with strings of prose and personal narration that tell the story of the artist’s life and relationship with music, starting at age 10.

Scheuer plays something else as well — the audience. In one off-script moment during Tuesday night’s performance, he noted a commotion in the front row and added a candid aside: “Come on, I know you’re there. It’s not like I don’t know you’re there.”

Forgive the tired metaphor of comparing heartstrings and catgut, but Scheuer seems to know what he’s doing when he caters his life’s story for the audience's consumption. We become the final piece of the playbill, offering the gasps of surprise, spontaneous applause, and a perfectly timed laugh track that is anything but forced.

click to enlarge MATTHEW MURPHY
  • Matthew Murphy
I hesitate to use the phrase “coming of age” to describe the story that unfolds on the stage. It’s like watching a personal essay while playing a record. More a “coming of life”, a narration that ultimately reveals truths that develop with time and lessons we need to re-learn about love, loss, family and forgiveness.

Through songs that originated in Greenwich Village coffee houses, Scheuer tells ordinary stories with extraordinary honesty, from the inciting tale of a cookie tin banjo to an imagined phone call between his late father and his mother. Scheuer is clever with his candor, weaving humorous phrases about being “a very dramatic almost 14-year-old,” with the poignant story of losing a loved one in the midst of a fight.

Over the course of the piece, Scheuer rotates around three seats, strategically removing articles of clothing as he does. One might consider this act to be analogous to the stripping away of artifice that takes place as he progresses through the story. Or it may just be a slow drawn-out strip tease. Either way, he succeeds in keeping the audience engaged, ultimately making The Lion a show you’ll remember long after.

The Lion: through May 1, at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater 1127 Market Street, 415-749-2228. 

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A. K. Carroll

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