Penned by Italian playwright Stefano Massini and adapted from five hours to three hours 20 minutes in English by Ben Power, THE LEHMAN TRILOGY first opened in a French translation in Paris. The play made its way to London in 2018 and finally to New York in 2019. A Broadway opening scheduled for March 2020 was derailed by the closure of U.S. theaters due to COVID-19. On March 6, 2022, the National Theatre production of THE LEHMAN TRILOGY opened at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.
THE LEHMAN TRILOGY is the saga of the Lehman family, founders of a financial empire. In 1844, a young German Jew named Heyum Lehmann arrived on the shores of the U.S. to make his fortune in the New World. Within minutes of his arrival, Heyum found himself reborn as Henry Lehman (Simon Russell Beale). Settling in antebellum Alabama, he was soon joined by his brothers Emanuel (Howard W. Overshown) and Mayer (Adam Godley). Together the brain, the arm, and the potato (collectively the Lehman trio) would open a shop selling fabric and clothing, soon converted into the more profitable enterprise of buying and selling plantation cotton. But the plantation economy and slavery would soon topple as the Civil War drew ever nearer. In the prophetic words of a doctor of the time: “Everything that was built here was built on a crime. The roots run so deep you cannot see them, but the ground beneath our feet is poisoned. It had to end this way.” The Lehmans prove to be eminently flexible and are soon lending money to rebuild the South and cornering the market in coffee. Eventually the trio realize that they need to work with their most reliable and profitable commodity – money. As merchants of money, the Lehman Brothers are on a roll. And a dynasty is born.
THE LEHMAN TRILOGY is a fascinating tale of the good, the bad, and the ugly of capitalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In fact, in 163 years, they go from pennies to billions – even surviving the 1929 Great Depression – until the empire comes crashing down in 2008. The play features only three actors, powerful craftsmen who play multiple roles – even their own children and grandchildren – in the course of the tale. In the blink of an eye, the talented thespians may change age, sex, accent, and character with barely a shrug. The audience is soon introduced to Philip (Simon Russell Beale), Emanuel’s son and future financial shark; Bobby (Adam Godley), Philip’s son and the last of the wheeling-and-dealing Lehmans; and Herbert (Howard W. Overshown), Mayer’s son and future governor and senator. In a particularly effective move, the children and grandchildren are first introduced as toddlers, where thumb sucking and beard plucking are allowed, and youngsters whose clever behavior charms the audience. In a play which is over three hours long, there are so many cute, clever, and memorable moments that they cannot all be catalogued in one review. Suffice it to say that THE LEHMAN TRILOGY is a human story about real people, warts and all.
Kudos to director Sam Mendes, who helms the production with a sure hand. The action is divided into three acts with two intermissions; happily, time really does fly when the audience is being grandly entertained. The production crew also deserves congratulations for creating a fascinating setting – elements like Es Devlin’s large glass square resembling an office which rotates as the story inches forward. Behind the glass enclosure is video designer Luke Halls’ world as it appears during each epoch – from the Statue of Liberty to burning plantations to the skyscrapers of NYC. John Clark’s lighting, Nick Powell’s sound, and composer Candida Caldicot’s piano melodies add multiple dimensions to the deceptively simple staging. While the topic may sound dry, this is a show for everyone. THE LEHMAN TRILOGY outlines some essential truths about America’s growth and development while weaving in the beguiling and captivating human details which keep the audience chuckling and entertained. On top of that, the ending is nearly perfect.
THE LEHMAN TRILOGY runs through April 10, 2022, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays (no 1 p.m. performance on 3/26; no 7:30 performance on 3/27; no 8 p.m. performance on 4/2; no 7:30 p.m. performance on 4/10; 2 p.m. performances added on 4/7/22). The Ahmanson Theatre is located at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets range from $35 to $225. For information and reservations, call 213-972-4400 or go online.