Two and a half years in the past, The Lehman Trilogy performed in New York Metropolis’s cavernous Park Avenue Armory—and from the place this critic was sitting it was misplaced, airless, and fairly unintelligible. Someplace, over on my left, a stage consisting of a flowery glass dice normal right into a variously partitioned workplace revolved in jerky vogue, because the story of the evolution of the well-known banking household unfolded. Necks had been craned, hopes the stage would draw nearer had been dashed. And this went on for over three and a half hours.
Now The Lehman Trilogy has opened on a standard Broadway stage—reward be, no craned necks—and it feels a really totally different, a lot better present. The designer Es Devlin’s glass dice is now immediately in entrance of us, and so are the actors. Now staged on a standard scale, it’s an intimate, engrossing piece of theater, fantastically acted, designed, and lit. From being an epic oddity it’s turn into an epic meal, even because it sanitizes some historical past and bizarrely neglects to inform the remaining.
Unique firm members Simon Russell Beale and Adam Godley return, with Adrian Lester becoming a member of the forged in his Broadway debut. First they play the three unique Lehman brothers (Henry, Mayer, and Emanuel), and because the play progresses many different characters moreover—no matter else the play is it’s a performative feast, and the three males are great to observe. The characters exist as characters, and in addition present third-person historic info, story notes, and stage instructions. It’s extra sweeping commentary than play.
By way of the three sections, “Three Brothers,” “Fathers & Sons,” and “The Immortal” we journey from the founding of the Lehman Brothers firm by Henry in 1844 in Alabama to its destruction, buried by the sub-prime mortgage disaster and subsequent world financial meltdown of 2008. Beside the stage, the present’s musical director, Candida Caldicot, accompanies on a piano as a wry musical adjunct to unfolding historical past.
The enjoying of that piano, coupled with the language and gorgeous projections behind the dice by Luke Halls, take us from the cotton plantations of slavery-era Alabama to twenty first century Manhattan, and underscore the dream-like high quality of the play. Typically, New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty face us. And when the Swinging Sixties hit, and all three actors are doing the Twist whereas standing on containers, out of the blue the projections fizz and blur to an intense, mesmerizing rapidity.
The historic sweep of the Lehman story takes in racism, the immigrant expertise (the Lehmans had been Jews from Bavaria), fraternal and familial tensions, capitalism, computer systems, and hubris. The delight of the play is much less within the element than within the telling. Stefano Massini’s script, tailored by Ben Energy, is one in every of wit, debate, poetry and soliloquy; not mess, complication, and ethical ambiguity. The script is most excited, just like the brothers and their descendants, a couple of new alternative to earn money.
The three actors play not simply the three brothers, however wives Pauline and Babette. Then they play their sons, Philip and Herbert, and Philip’s spouse Carrie. They play Bobbie, Philip and Carrie’s son, and Ruth Lamar, Bobbie’s vamp-to-the-max first spouse. It may be humorous within the second (significantly Godley’s virtuoso-played succession of potential wives that Philip considers), however the pantomime accenting and flutteriness of the feminine characters is grating. The play might have written ladies into the motion, however it doesn’t know what to do with them, reasonably than simply encourage us to chuckle at their exaggeratedly drawn femininity.
As males, the actors have vastly extra room for dramatic maneuver. Lester performs Emanuel as a forceful counterbalance to Henry within the firm’s early years. Russell Beale nails Philip’s garrulous self-certainty (his supercilious pronouncements of “I take my go away” have stayed with me), Godley, in sun shades, provides Bobbie a rock-star-styled strut.
The play evokes the Great Depression of 1929 (and the suicides of individuals on Wall Avenue on the time), reasonably than the 2008 crash, when no Lehmans had been nonetheless alive to see the eradication of the household firm. As time spins on, so does the glass dice.
The dice turns into a fourth character, a palimpsest whose sides find yourself scored with numbers from earlier years—sums of cash, conflict useless. The signal of the unique agency, promoting itself as an outfitters is crossed out. “BANK” replaces it. The story is dense with element, however not criticism. We study lots concerning the historical past of the corporate (and that is additionally out there on-line and in books), however not a lot of the brothers’ and their descendants’ characters past the quirks and key moments in firm historical past that give Lester, Russell Beale, and Godley the fabric for his or her performing tour de power.
“In service to giving the previous a golden sheen, the play skates over no matter ruthlessness and greed motivated the expansion of an organization like Lehman within the first place.”
When the world hurries up, so does the play—the projections turn into flashing, mega-figured monetary abstractions, which reminded this critic of so many finance-related performs and flicks (Enron, Margin Name) that used the identical gadget.
The play just isn’t vital of the Lehmans, however reasonably tells a really conventional story of capitalism—that family-run firms had been morally superior to the shark-like, grasping technocrats that got here in and took them over. We all know that final catastrophe is coming, by the best way—the portents of doom within the play start with plantation fires, and the recitation of strains like, “The whole lot is falling aside.” All three brothers have recurring apocalyptic desires. A chilly breeze is talked about with foreboding, and the air-con within the theater certainly wafts over you (convey a jacket)—an unintentional however efficient assembly of textual content and theater.
In service to giving the previous a golden sheen, the play skates over no matter ruthlessness and greed underpinned the expansion of an organization like Lehman within the first place. What distinction is there within the firm altering its focus from garments to cotton to railways within the identify of creating as a lot cash as attainable in comparison with the ruthless bankers of later years? As a substitute, the play humanizes and softens—inserting the brothers’ Jewish id and immigrant standing as central, or noting how in a different way an old-style firm grieves a figurehead in comparison with immediately’s soulless behemoth.
When Bobbie dies in 1969, the corporate first passes into the arms of Lewis ‘Lew’ Glucksman, then Pete Peterson, and eventually Dick Fuld. The household was gone. After Bobbie’s loss of life, the play doesn’t actually sketch the final 39 years of Lehman Brothers. There’s a rushed up-to-speed commentary, and some pious intonations concerning the bogeyman of unfettered capitalism, and that’s it—with a startling last visible that feels extra gestural than significant.
For a play that’s so ruminative concerning the foundations of a large of latest capitalism, it feels perverse to gloss so shortly over the circumstances of its last act. The Lehman Trilogy is a superb piece of theater, with three wonderful performances. However it’s extra decided to memorialize what it insists was the basic decency of its ghosts, reasonably than sketch the seeding of characters and misdeeds that led to Lehman’s destruction.