A 5 p.m. matinee on a snowy Saturday seemed like a punishment, when all I wanted was tea and comfort, but two minutes into Ben Scheuer’s “The Lion” at the Culture Project, was the only place I could imagine being. What a joy, a wild unexpected ride and a heart-opening experience.
Benjamin Scheuer is tall and fit and so handsome with a shock of messy brown hair and fingers so fast on any of the seven guitars arrayed on stage that for the music and the visage alone you may be willing to surrender to his one-man show. His voice is never perfect, but so alluring, and even better than perfection is the story he has to tell. Scheuer is sharing with us, ever so generously, the tale of his coming to manhood. And we all know that voyage is full of trips, cracking voices, explosions, challenges, sadness and joys, but his is a gripping one.
Scheuer had a stern mathematician father who also harbored a desire and talent for music. He taught young Ben to play on a banjo constructed out of a pie pan with rubber bands and Ben and his dad played music on and off with his two younger brothers. The three boys comprised the lion pack inside the family’s pride. Scheuer’s father was mercurial, one day sweet and funny the next screaming and abusive. Ben caught his full wrath in the weeks leading up to his 14th birthday and then tragically his father died before there could be a denouement.
His British mother took young Ben and the other lion cubs back to England for boarding school and more strictness. Finally Ben headed back to America to be an erstwhile musician; along the way he falls in love, plays hard rock, falls ill and recovers. Well, we knew he would get better otherwise someone else would be telling the story, but knowing he ascends doesn’t in any way diminish this glorious, uplifting piece.
The stories are heartfelt and never maudlin, the music is sweet, or tangy or sad and sings and twangs to tug on our heartstrings. The piece moves with the well-paced direction of Sean Daniels and combines so seamlessly that at the end the tired, cold audience rose to its feet cheering.
The Lynn Redgrave Theater, one of the many spaces at Culture Project, is a clean theater, one that seems to accommodate many different kinds of work at varying levels of wonder and resonance. But the technical elements, the design, the sound, the lights are always so well wrought. In this instance the spare but alluring set design was by Neil Patel, light by Ben Stanton and sound, which worked so well by Leon Rosenberg. This is a great winter interlude.
“The Lion” runs through March 29 at The Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street in New York City. For information or tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://cultureproject.org/current/lion/