An epic tale of the rise and fall of a family’s American Dream and financial empire in ‘The Lehman Trilogy’ on Broadway
If you’re concerned about the potential discomfort or drop in attention precipitated by a three-part production lasting more than three hours and two intermissions, don’t be. The Lehman Trilogy, which now plays a limited engagement at the Nederlander Theater, is a brilliant work of epic proportions that captivated me with its masterful storytelling, engaging staging and haunting performances in its entirety, without even checking my watch once. These three hours and more are very captivating and very well used.
Presented by The National Theater and Neal Street Productions, the five-time Olivier Award-nominated play, written by Italian playwright Stefano Massini and adapted by British playwright Ben Power, has already reached new heights with its sold-out tours in London and New York. Armory on avenue du Parc. The current Broadway premiere, directed by Oscar and Tony Award winner Sam Mendes, also deserves all the praise and interest accrued by previous productions in the series. Featuring the return of original company members Simon Russell Beale and Adam Godley, the demanding work, structured in direct third-person storytelling spanning nearly two centuries in real family history Lehman and the Business Empire, is run flawlessly by the dominant performers, joined by co-star Adrian Lester in a stellar Broadway debut.
The play and its trio of actors span three generations, from the sequential immigration of Jewish brothers Lehman Henry (Beale), Mayer (Godley) and Emanuel (Lester) to Alabama from Bavaria in the mid-19e century, through the creation and growth of their ever-evolving family business and their move to New York, until the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008, which culminated in the bankruptcy and collapse of the company. Lehman Brothers investment services (then the fourth largest in the country).
As the story moves from the founders to their sons and then to their grandsons, the tone of the language appropriately shifts from poetic musings and traditional religious incantations to the post-modern technical financial language that reflects the ‘changing times and priorities, in a growing accusation of the lure of money and the rapacious capitalist system. There are also moments of laughter, as the three actors turn not only in tour de force depictions of all of Lehman’s men, but also of the women, children and associates in their lives, easily distinguishing the characters through their voices and behaviors, and inspiring us to use our imaginations, without changing costumes or missing a beat. Acting is no better than that.
Along with the theatrical tale of their lives, accomplishments, and Lehman’s ultimate failure of the American Dream (triggering their own recurring nightmares), the play revisits pivotal moments in U.S. history, including the Civil War, reconstruction, the yellow fever epidemic, the stock market crash of 1929 and the GFC. He also alludes to moral issues as important as the brethren’s acceptance and exploitation of slavery in the South for family success in the cotton industry (while at the same time intoning their lamentations over the former slavery of the Israelites in Egypt) and the promulgation of capitalist excesses for the public for personal gain (which ultimately cost the company everything).
As with the storytelling, the show’s design engages the imagination of the audience, with the actors wearing the same 19th-century style costumes (by two-time Tony Award winner Katrina Lindsay) despite the change in characters and time periods, and the revolving set (by two-time Tony Award nominee Es Devlin) consists of a meeting room and current offices in a glass and steel skyscraper, enhanced with background videos (by Luke Halls ) that capture different times, places and events. Together they connect us to the trajectory of where the Lehmans started and how they ended (with the 2008 Crisis, and an additional set of actors, used as a framing device to open and close the trilogy). Expert lighting (by Jon Clark), sound (by Tony Award-nominated composer Nick Powell), movement (by Polly Bennett) and musical direction (by pianist Candida Caldicot) enhance the figures, moods and moments told.
The Lehman Trilogy is the theater in what it has most convincing, provocative and accomplished. Don’t miss it.
Duration: About three hours and 15 minutes, including two intermissions.
The Lehman Trilogy plays until Sunday January 2, 2022 at the Nederlander Theater, 208 West 41st Street, New York. For tickets, go in line. Proof of vaccination is required for entry and masks must be worn inside the theater at all times.