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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Technique can be a double edged sword in the theater.

Too little and your work onstage has no impact. You can't be heard, you can't be seen and your story has no arc.

Too much technique? That's a whole different problem. It can keep an audience at a distance and make a show feel less intimate, less immediate.

There's no question there's an abundance of technique, both theatrical and musical, in Benjamin Scheuer's one-man show The Lion. Mr. Scheuer is a remarkable musician and the creative team behind this piece has made a really tight piece of theater.

If you're familiar with the solo show form, there's a lot in The Lion you'll recognize. It's a coming of age story with all the prerequisites.

Challenging relationship with a parent? Check.
Story of early, tragic romance? Check.
Life threatening illness? Check.

You get the idea.

What The Lion has that most solo show's don't is incredible music. Mr. Scheuer is joined on stage by a half dozen guitars that he plays passionately. The show is as much a song cycle as it is a theatrical narrative. We begin with a charming folksy tune that tells the story of Mr. Scheuer listening to his Dad enchant him with his guitar playing. His dad, who provides much of the narrative drive of the piece, makes his son a toy banjo with an old necktie, some rubber bands, and the tin lid of a cookie jar.

The Lion is a story of a musician finding his own voice and of a boy becoming a man.

And it's not only beautifully played, it's beautifully produced. Everything from the set design -- with it's tin ceiling, steam radiator and bare Edison bulbs, to the costume design which takes us from a dapper suit and tie with suspenders to a disheveled open chested shirt and bare feet -- everything supports the arc of the story placing the appropriate emphasis on each plot point and progression. It's a beautiful example of how to support a performer, how to tell a story.

It's a lot of technique.

Unfortunately, that technique also keeps the play from really hitting home with the intimacy the story deserves. As a guitar player, Mr. Scheuer is remarkable, passionate and the relationship between him and his guitar is a true love story. As an actor . . . Mr. Scheuer is a remarkable guitar player. That's not entirely fair but he doesn't embrace the audience in the way he embraces those guitars. There's a distance, almost a skepticism, to his performance. He'll tell us his story but he's not going to relive it for us. He'll play the low notes on the guitar but he only plays at them as an actor.

So is the show worth your time?

The night I went, I watched a mom and her teenage daughter be moved to tears and fall in love with this performer half a dozen times over the course of the show. Folks were buzzing after the show -- so if you love acoustic guitar and solo shows -- don't miss it just forgive the moments when the technique substitutes for immediacy.

The Lion plays at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood through February 19.

For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW Theater newsletter, check out kcrw.com/theater.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.


Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Benjamin Scheuer in the one-man show, The Lion (Matthew Murphy)

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