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First Nighter: Joe Pintauro's 'Snow Orchid,' Benjamin Scheuer's 'The Lion'

02/08/2015 06:23 pm ET | Updated Apr 10, 2015

If forgiveness is divine, what is the inability to forgive? Joe Pintauro's hard-nosed Snow Orchid, at the Lion, doesn't provide an answer. Instead, through the up-close-and-extremely-personal look at one severely dysfunctional family, it offers a relentless example of the absence of forgiveness.

When Rocco (Robert Cuccioli) returns from a stay at a psychiatric hospital, no one is thrilled to see him. Quite the opposite. Wife Filumena (Angelina Fiordellisi) and sons Sebbie, short for Sebastiano (Stephen Plunkett), and Blaise (David McElwee) remember too vividly Rocco's relentless physical and verbal abuse.

Not only that, they have family problems with each other. Filumena -- who hasn't left the house in some sequestered time but prefers to stay in her room worshipping a plaster statue of Saint Anthony -- dotes too openly on Sebbie. Left out of her affection, Blaise cares about his brother but nonetheless feels isolated. In the meantime, Sebbie is itching to leave the household for reasons having to do with how he really wants to live his life.

Though on coming home as a man who's confronted his manic-depressive disorder, Rocco finds his newfound patience cruelly tested. The family sees to it that try as he might, he doesn't do well on the test. At one point he says, "The more they disappoint you, the more they make you want them." But the wages of the wanting and the denial of the wanting are shown as frustrating throughout the tough-minded two Show Orchid acts.

The title refers to three plants Rocco brings home for Filumena that symbolize the fragility of the contentious quartet's reunion. What happens to those plant shouldn't happen to a dog. Or a family.

Before the final fade-out, when hope for their bonding once and for all doesn't look too promising, the four have regressed to their previous familial behaviors. (Joseph Travers is the fight director.) Among other things, the Saint Anthony statue meets a sad end, Rocco is on his knees to Sebbie in a particularly shocking full-frontal plea, and Filumena -- convinced that Rocco really longed to marry her sister -- has recoiled from Rocco's sincere advances. She's even assaulted her beloved Sebbie. The arrival of Sebbie's friend-with-benefits Doogan (Timothy Hassler) also causes dissension.

To give an idea of the figurative slings and arrows in play here, Patrick Rizzotti's effective, though clearly low-budget, set includes -- in the downstage left area designated as Sebbie's room -- a poster of Saint Sebastian. (After all, the room is inhabited by a Sebastiano?) During one sequence, Sebbie tosses darts at the image. Get it? Of course, you do.

Although director Valentina Fratti could invigorate the earlier Snow Orchid scenes, the later scenes are consistently combustible. To a man and woman, the actors hit their emotional marks.

Cuccioli, only a few months ago distinguishing The Bikeman downtown, again proves his post-Jekyll & Hyde career is further evidence of on-stage prowess. Fiordellisi, Plunkett and McElwee, as well as Hassler in his late-entrance role, give bracing life to their despairing parts.

Snow Orchid is one of those plays about family stress that, while difficult to watch, effectively depicts the realities of the way some people -- possibly too many people -- live. Perhaps the truth is that some families are simply not meant to be. As much as it's a view anyone would try to resist, Pintauro makes a strong case for accepting it as all too valid.

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Another abusive father is remembered not at "The Lion" but at the 70-minute entertainment called The Lion. It's the return, at the Lynn Redgrave, of Benjamin Scheuer's one-man musical that played MTC's City Center address last year to well-deserved glowing reviews.

As unobtrusively directed by Sean Daniels, the one-man outing still glows. On Neil Patel's understated set, Scheuer uses seven guitars, two chairs and an amplifier to tell how he learned to love music at his father's knee -- despite the early death of a father, who taunted and discouraged him in other ways.

Singing songs like "Three Little Cubs" in an appealing baritone, Scheuer recounts his life with mother Sylvia and brothers Adam and Simon in London after his father's death. He goes on to his Manhattan return, to a short-lived romance with Julia, to his Bob Dylan-like electric guitar phase, to his long but ultimately cured bout with cancer, to a seven-week Italy retreat and to how, after undergoing all these travails, he realized that learning to play guitar like his father (who discouraged that accomplishment) wasn't the goal.

Learning to play like himself was what was demanded and expected. That's the real story here -- Scheuer's finding his musical voice as a metaphor for learning how to live his life. And he tells it in a charming, spellbinding manner.

Handsome in a suit and tie, the master of an irresistible smile and possessing a head of leonine hair, Scheuer remains eager to pass along his message. Anyone who missed The Lion the first time around is advised to see it now. Anyone who didn't miss it the first time around is also advised to see it again.