The optimistic Benjamin Scheuer in The Lion
The Lion plays at the Old Globe through October 30. I saw it on Sunday, October 16.
In the finest tradition of song cycles such as Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Schubert’s Winterreise, The Lion, by Benjamin Scheuer, weaves a narrative of personal grief and loss.
There is one significant difference. Scheuer is an American and not an overwrought German from the 19th Century.
Grief dominates Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love) and Winterreise (Winter Journey). For instance, Dichterliebe concludes with: “Do you know why the coffin needs to be so big and heavy? I laid away my love in it and my pain as well.” There are no happy endings to German song cycles.
The grief and loss contained within The Lion is significant, but Scheuer has found a way to sublimate that grief into a work of art that is both poignant and joyous. The Lion is not grief-laden for grief’s sake.
Scheuer is full of optimism — a distinctly American quality — but it is not a cheap optimism. The Lion is an optimistic triptych that has been carved by family, love, and disease. Ultimately what Scheuer has created here is the epitome of art — pain, grief, and despair have been transformed by art into a narrative of truth and beauty.
Truth and beauty, as I’ve said before, take us to freedom. Freedom is the ultimate goal of any artistic endeavor.
Scheuer has increased his personal freedom through the medium of song and in the process has increased the freedom of any audience member who has ears to hear his songs.
Freedom from what?
Freedom from the limitations imposed upon us by those well-intentioned souls who did their best to nurture and raise us. Freedom from the lover who was unable to requite. Freedom from unresolved grief.