Review of The Pride of the Lion
The playwright of the play The Pride of the Lion also happens to be the man who mentored me during the writing of my thesis play. While I could spend a whole post (or several) talking about Larry Loebell’s amazingness, I’ll just say that he’s one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever worked with and a totally inspirational writer and person and leave it at that.
The Pride of the Lion is about David Williamson, a man who has earned himself the nickname “The Lion” because of the way he negotiates business deals. Unfortunately, he’s also earned himself five years of jail time due to some dirty dealing, and the play opens on his final evening before he’s carted off to prison. Sadly, his night is doomed to be an unhappy one. After leaving work for the last time with the new knowledge that a waiter has been listening in on his advisement sessions and making a pretty penny off what he hears, Williamson returns home to his wife, Helen, who no longer loves him. Their college student daughter Annie rarely comes home anymore, so disgusted is she by her father’s crimes, and all in all, Williamson’s last night is looking grim. As his world and family crumbles around him, Williamson tries to mold everything back into shape, but his daughter is waiting for the right moment to give everything a final push with some shocking betrayal.
Though Larry has been my professor and mentor, I’ve sadly only read two of plays. Both pieces (this one and Girl Science, which my alma mater premiered this past February) are incredibly compelling. The plot of Pride of the Lion is intricately built, with little pieces of information being dropped along the way. One of my favorite reveals, which occurs in the first scene, is that Williamson himself started the use of his nickname. No one called him The Lion before he did, but it was quickly picked up. It’s a perfect example of who Williamson is- a self-starter, prideful, and also unwilling to own up to his own questionable actions. In the second of three scenes, Helen remarks how proud she was of her husband when she first heard someone call him The Lion. “I loved you so much,” she tells him. “And I felt so safe, so protected. But things changed.” And even though Williamson has admitted to someone else that he made up his own nickname, he never uses the opportunity to tell his wife.
Woven throughout the play are references and sung lyrics to musicals, namely Camelot, Gypsy, and Carousel. At first, when the waiter Reese mentions to Williamson that he’s heard Williamson humming show tunes at lunch, I thought it was merely an interesting insight into Williamson’s character. After all, not everyone enjoys show tunes, and many men would never admit to it. But Williamson’s always shared his love for the music with his family, and it’s something Annie cites as a good memory of her father. But the musicals Larry chooses to feature in the play, and especially the songs from those musicals that are played during the show, are very meaningful. Reese has heard Williamson humming You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel, specifically the phrase, ‘When you walk through a storm…’ Later, he sings some lyrics from Camelot to his wife from the song If Ever I Would Leave You, a duet about the intoxication, albeit shameful, of an affair. And in the final scene, the same song from Carousel and Everything’s Coming Up Roses from Gypsy, both ultimately songs of encouragement, play during a mother-daughter argument.
I love Annie’s hatred toward her father. Helen’s dislike for her husband grows stronger throughout the final two scenes of the play, but Annie’s loathing is palpable from the moment she enters to the time she exits. Toward the end of the play, Annie announces that she’s seeing one of the reporters that her parents despise so much, who have been stalking the Williamson house for a long time. Not only that, but she’s going to do what her mother has refused the reporters time and time again: she’s going to be the subject of a tell-all news report. She’s tired of her parents ignoring what’s going on and tired of staying silent. “I did exactly what was expected of me,” she snaps at Helen. “The whole time. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t ask him any questions. I waited for him to talk to me. He could have said ‘I did it’ or ‘I didn’t do it’ or ‘I did it and here’s the reason’ but he never said anything. He came home as if nothing had happened and he played his stupid records and the two of you ate dinner and you talked about everything else but what was happening to him. What was I supposed to do?” It’s easy to peg Annie as the villain, but at the same time, I find her ability to make something out a bad situation admirable. “I can go around with it all pressed down inside of me […] and just ignore it when everyone looks at me with pity or disdain or I can change it into something else […] This is my way if making something okay out of this.”
The Pride of the Lion boasts a subtlety complex plot and rich characters, and it’s a piece I hope I get to see onstage.
DAVID: Have those bastards out there started opening my mail?
HELEN: Your mail.
DAVID: My mail.
HELEN: Our mail.
DAVID: Excuse me. Our mail.
HELEN: I opened it.
DAVID: You opened it? Why?
HELEN: Because starting tomorrow, it’s in my job description. Convict’s wife, keeper of the home fires […] After all these years of waiting for you to come home and open the mail, I decided not to wait, just to tick you off. Is it working?
DAVID: Can’t we let it go for tonight?
HELEN: So we can go out and put on a show? I could be like the long-suffering wife in that Michael Douglas movie. What was her name? The one Anne Archer played.
DAVID: About the stock guy?
HELEN: No. The one where Glenn Close nearly knifes him in the bathtub. I was rooting for her.