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The Lehman Trilogy reviews masterful performances that enliven an imperfect project | Theater

The Lehman Trilogy reviews masterful performances that enliven an imperfect project |  Theater


ANearly 16 years after the collapse that triggered the global financial panic, the Lehman trilogy arrives on Australian stages this month to tell the story of a bank that, in fact, was not too big to make bankruptcy. And if you think you've heard it all, not quite: Ben Power's play, adapted from the Italian text by Stefano Massini and directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes in this Tony Award-winning production, tells the story of the story of the family that built the bank.

Presented as a corporate thriller, the play opens in an empty meeting room in midtown Manhattan, strewn with boxes, a janitor tidying up the room while a radio rolls out the news headlines: Lehman has collapsed and the world is waiting to know whether it will or not. be bailed out. We then return to 1844 and the arrival on a New York dock of Heyum Lehmann, son of a Jewish cattle dealer from Rimpar, Bavaria, ready to claim his own share of the American dream under his new anglicized name: Henry . Lehman (Adrian Schiller).

A history of American capitalism through the lens of a family business: Howard W. Overshown, Aaron Krohn, and Adrian Schiller in The Lehman Trilogy. Photography: Daniel Boud

Over the next three and a half hours, three one-hour acts at two intervals take us through 164 years of a family saga and a potted history of capitalism. Henry's younger brothers, Emanuel (Howard W. Overshown) and Mayer (Aaron Krohn), join him, and together they turn his clothing store in Montgomery, Alabama, into a raw cotton trading post. Wives are acquired, children are born, cotton is abandoned for coffee, Alabama is abandoned for New York, the family's deeply rooted European Jewish identity is lost, and the Lehman Brothers company moves inexorably further away in addition to the business of buying and selling material goods. things and in the abstract domain of pure finance. And then, the fall.

On its face, it's a compelling premise: a story of American capitalism through the lens of a family business; a story of brothers, sons, fathers and boardrooms that has the whiff of succession, but fueled by the courage of immigrants.

Sure, it's ambitious: three and a half hours isn't a lot of time to tell 164 years of family history, let alone with a subplot about American capitalism. Massini, an Italian playwright, knew this: his text began as a radio play, before becoming a five-hour play, then a 700-page novel. But this National Theater production, which premiered in 2018 before transferring to the West End and Broadway, has serious pedigree: Mendes is responsible for West End and Broadway hits such as Cabaret and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice ; Power takes shape in the adaptation of heavy texts (Paradise Lost) and corporate tales (Enron); and Es Devlin is arguably the best (and certainly the most innovative) theater maker.

This A team made smart choices. Power and Mendes retain Massini's free-verse oratorical style and focus the narrative on just three actors, who first play the brothers before morphing into countless other roles, with nothing more than a change of accent, a change of posture or expression, a gesture. .

The set includes a rotating glass box serving as a meeting room in which document boxes are reconfigured as if they were building elements, and various names and numbers are written and sometimes erased on the walls with a marker . At the back of the stage, a curved panoramic video screen projects initially naturalistic and geolocated images of New York Harbor, Alabama fields, the 21st century New York City skyline, but which become increasingly increasingly abstract and digitized as we approach the rarefied atmosphere of pure finance.

A sense of movement and play enlivens what might otherwise seem dry. Photography: Daniel Boud

All of this maintains a sense of movement and play that enlivens what might otherwise seem dry. By stripping the meat of the family saga down to the bone (including removing entire chapters of family and business history and branches of the Lehman tree), you lose much of what has made Massini's novel a satisfying human tale, and you're left with plenty. of discussions of trade and capitalist theory, and a breathtaking timeline that spans major stages such as the Civil War.

The performances of this truly fine trio of actors are the essential ingredient that holds our attention, bringing even fleeting characters to life and eliciting the laughs and warm empathy that ensure the audience has skin in the emotional game.

The project is, however, imperfect. At its core, it's a story about white men mostly behaving badly. The women barely figure and when they do, they are thinly sketched and comical: a coquette identified by the color of her dress or the style of her hat; a boring but devoted wife; a resentful and haranguing wife. Too many necessary laughs in plays are extracted from men who caricature women.

The performances of this very fine trio of actors are the essential ingredient. Photography: Daniel Boud

Then there's the decision to tell the story of capitalism in America without slavery, which American critics rightly denounced when the play was moved there, leading to small, insufficient amendments (including a awkward moment in Act 1 when one of Lehman's neighbors stops by his house). say that slavery is evil, before disappearing in a puff of smoke deus ex machina). It's a story of capitalism that spends more time telling us about the stock brokers who committed suicide on the first day of the Great Depression than about the millions of Americans who died building the nation's wealth.

As a family saga, The Lehman Trilogy lacks meat and stakes; as a history of American capitalism, it seems incomplete and too lightly sketched.




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