TUGGING ON HEARTSTRINGS: Benjamin Scheuer gets earnest in The Lion.
  • Portland Center Stage / Patrick Weishampel
  • TUGGING ON HEARTSTRINGS: Benjamin Scheuer gets earnest in The Lion.

Showing now through June 14, Portland Center Stage's The Lion tugs, not so subtly, at the heartstrings.

A poised and affable performer and talented folk musician, Benjamin Scheuer chronicles his life’s tumultuous ups and downs through musical storytelling. With bits of comedic relief, Scheuer is so unguarded in exposing his wounds that he invites the audience to revisit some of their own.

Wearing a well-tailored suit and a joyful grin, Scheuer enters the stage and, grabbing one of his six guitars displayed on stage, takes a seat and makes himself at home. He begins recounting memories from his childhood: admiring his father’s singing and guitar playing until he receives a cookie-tin banjo of his own. With lines straight out of a cheesy children’s program, it initially feels like the audience is in for a heaping dose of rainbows and butterflies. “What makes a lion a lion?” little Benjamin asks his father. “I think’s it’s the roar.”

But with a quick turn of events, the tone darkens. His father begins taking out his frustration on Ben—shouting at him, insulting his intelligence and breaking his toys. When his father ends up falling ill and passing away, the two are in the midst of a fight and not speaking to one another. This turning point haunts Scheuer for the rest of his life. Recurring guilt, anger, and grief crop up through his coming of age—from traversing his teenage years and moving to New York to falling in love, being dumped, and battling cancer. Scheuer recalls feeling so lonely and defeated that you just want to reach out and give him a hug. What keeps the performance from sinking into utter sadness is Scheuer’s ability to find himself through his hardship and use his passion for music as an outlet.

Coldhearted skeptics should steer clear, but Scheuer’s undeniably touching story is a welcome reminder for many. The one redeeming quality of tragedy, particularly the kind that Scheuer experiences, is its ability to illuminate what actually matters in life. The world contains plenty of unexplainable and undeserved trauma; we can only hope that the lucky ones can benefit from the valuable and vicarious lessons of the less fortunate. Scheuer’s performance, while sappy at times, can offer a change in perspective if you let it. In simple terms, “It’s not a roar that makes the lion, it’s the pride.”