‘The Lehman Trilogy’ review: Quite A History of Wall Street

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From left to right, Adam Godley, Simon Russell Beale and Adrian Lester


Photo:

Juliette Cervantes

new York

The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy has been one of the biggest and most shocking business reports since the Great Depression. How did a 161-year-old company, America’s fourth-largest investment bank, go bankrupt, triggering a global financial crisis? Unsurprisingly, his failure quickly became the subject of “Too Big to Fail,” a 2011 TV movie directed by Curtis Hanson, and now the rise and fall of Lehman Brothers has also arrived on Broadway, but not as a docu- fiction in figures. Instead, Stefano Massini’s “The Lehman Trilogy”, first performed in Italian in 2015 and translated and adapted by Ben Power for the National Theater in London three years later, is a dramatic poem in free verse in three. acts.

The Lehman Trilogy

Nederlander Theater, 208 W. 41st St. ($ 79- $ 179), 877-250-2929. Closing on January 2, 2022

“The Lehman Trilogy” chronicles how the first three Lehman brothers emigrated from Bavaria to Alabama in the mid-19th century and opened a general store that traded with slave plantation owners (a fact that is quietly emphasized in the recently revised version of coin) and evolved into a New York-based cotton brokerage firm. Over time, the company grew into a financial empire, surviving two World Wars and the Depression and thriving – or, more recently, appearing to thrive – until it imploded in 2008, almost 40 years later. the departure of the last member of the Lehman family.

While you will learn something about how this catastrophe happened in “The Lehman Trilogy,” the play as a whole is best understood as a sympathetic and understanding chronicle of the Jewish experience in America, which unfolds before the ubiquitous backdrop of capitalism. It doesn’t look like a play either: the impression that “The Lehman Trilogy” gives is that of a novel read aloud by three actors, much of which is written in the third person and present tense ( “Emanuel sits in his chair all night long.” Certainly Sam Mendes, the director, working closely with his inspired design team, has come a long way in making “The Lehman Trilogy” a mockery of dramatic impetus, but it’s not one to be found in a dialogue-based game. Perhaps the best way to describe the result is to tell a story, which takes place inside a huge rotating glass box designed by Es Devlin to suggest an office suite in a high rise building.

If I look a little lukewarm about the results, it’s because I didn’t immediately buy into “The Lehman Trilogy”. But the directing of Mr. Mendes is gloriously imaginative, and Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Adrian Lester, the three English actors who make up his cast, are prodigiously gifted changelings who all play men, women and children to various moments in the series. Without exception, they do so with a light and witty touch that draws the spur of the words they utter, too often ominous and never truly poetic (“At 70 he will get perspective / at 80 fall into decrepitude / and at 90 years old an elderly man is as dead / and can no longer participate in world affairs ”). By the end of the second act, the curtain of which fell on the morning of October 24, 1929, I had put my preconceptions aside and completely agreed with what the creators of “The Lehman Trilogy” were trying to do.

This is, unfortunately, that the coin falls apart. Striving to cram the crowded past 79 years of Lehman Brothers into an hour-long act, “The Lehman Trilogy” inevitably becomes diffuse and hazy, making it feel heavy. It’s a very long show — three hours and 20 minutes, including two intermissions — and so the failure of the third act to merge, while not exactly a disaster, is certainly a problem. Having neither seen nor read the original Italian version, which lasts five hours on stage, I can only speculate on the effect of Mr. Power’s cuts, but I wonder if “The Lehman Trilogy” could have worked better, Or at least be clearer, if it had been staged in a longer English version that used the two-part structure of “Angels in America”.

The good news is that when it works, as Acts 1 and 2 most often do, “The Lehman Trilogy” tells its story with breathtaking lucidity, one example is the speech in which Mr. Beale explains. what Lehman Brothers does: “We are money dealers. / Ordinary people only use money to buy things. / But we, who have a bank, / we use the money to make more money. You should therefore always do everything possible to see “The Lehman Trilogy”. Despite its flaws, you will certainly be captivated.

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