(Cover Photo: Steven Skybell as “Henry Lehman” and Firdous Bamji as “Mayer Lehman” in a scene from Stefano Massini's “THE LEHMAN TRILOGY" now playing at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, MA. through July 23, 2023. Photo Credit T. Charles Erickson)
By Kevin T. Baldwin
"He took a deep breath, gripped his suitcase and with a firm step – though still not knowing where to go – he entered he too the music box called America."
- ("Henry Lehman") / Stefano Massini
Written by Stefano Massini
Adapted by Ben Power
Directed by Carey Perloff
Cast Includes: Firdous Bamji as Mayer Lehman; Joshua David Robinson as Emanuel Lehman; Steven Skybell as Henry Lehman; Joe LaRocca as the Musician. Understudies include: Kadahj Bennett, Matthew Bretschneider, Todd Brunel, and Scott Wentworth.
Additional Creative Team:
Scenic Design - Sara Brown; Costume Design - Dede Ayite; Lighting Design - Robert Wierzel; Sound Design - Charles Coes and Mark Bennett; Music Composition - Mark Bennett; Projection Design - Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew; Movement Consulting - Misha Shields; Assistant Director - Avital Shira; Voice Coach - Lee Nishri-Howitt; Dramaturg - Julie Felise Dubiner; Production Stage Manager - Emily F. McMullen; Stage Manager - Lucas Bryce Dixon
The Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave. Boston, MA 02115
June 13, 2023 through July 23, 2023
(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)
Tickets: For tickets and more information, visit huntingtontheatre.org.
"THE LEHMAN TRILOGY" is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc. www.concordtheatricals.com
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The Huntington Theatre has given us an epic saga - a play taking a look of one of the wealthiest of wealthy families in the history of America as it presents "THE LEHMAN TRILOGY" throughout July.
In short - "THE LEHMAN TRILOGY" is a simply magnificent production.
There is not one inch of stage space wasted here.
The expansive stage space is completely filled with intricately designed stacked "crates," of all shapes and sizes - deceptively simple but intricately aligned - with many of the technical aspects of the production tied in to turn it into a visceral delight.
Directed by Carey Perloff, while there are many wonderful special effects to help supplement the impact of the story told, it is the combined performances by the triad of actors that impresses most.
(Photo: Joshua David Robinson, Firdous Bamji and Steven Skybell twist and spout in Stefano Massini's “THE LEHMAN TRILOGY" now playing at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, MA. through July 23, 2023. Photo Credit T. Charles Erickson)
Starting off slow, with an "arriving immigrant monologue" being emoted by arriving German-Jewish immigrant Heyum ("Henry") Lehman (Steven Skybell) in 1844, at first one might think...
"Oh, my God. Three and a half hours of this?"
Then, as one soon discovers, three and a half hours isn't enough time spent with these wonderful actors playing multiple roles.
The three immigrant Lehman Brothers - Henry, Emanuel (Joshua David Robinson) and Mayer (Firdous Bamji ) - may not have fully realized, at the time, how their wealth was being achieved on the backs of the oppressed slaves picking cotton in the South.
Okay, let's give them that benefit of doubt for one moment.
Yet this is what happened. Two of the brothers even owned slaves, but it is not known where those slaves worked.
(Photo: Firdous Bamji and Joshua David Robinson in Stefano Massini's “THE LEHMAN TRILOGY" now playing at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, MA. through July 23, 2023. Photo Credit T. Charles Erickson)
Arguably becoming America's most successful "middle men," the brothers Lehman, themselves possibly descendants of the ancient enslaved Hebrews, would be just as guilty as any for holding people in chains for their own enrichment.
And rich they did become. Over and over and over again.
The Lehmans could not have foreseen a devastating fire decimating much of Montgomery, Alabama nor could they have predicted a forthcoming Civil War.
Yet this, too, happened, but rich they did remain.
Over and over and over again - even evolving to the point where they began buying and selling in "little slips of paper."
They may not have invented the process of "investing" but they sure as hell ran with it further than many others who were also doing so at that time.
Neither the brothers, nor their children, could also have anticipated the emergence and subsequent crash of Wall Street in 1929.
All these things happened and became part and parcel with their legacy, long before their own "too big to fail" demise in 2008.
And fail they did. Spectacularly.
Perhaps, for their legacy of affluent arrogance, in the end, a kind of poetic justice was served.
More likely, though, perhaps, it is an ongoing pursuit.
(Photo: Firdous Bamji as “Mayer Lehman,” Steven Skybell as “Henry Lehman” and Joshua David Robinson as "Emanuel Lehman" in Stefano Massini's “THE LEHMAN TRILOGY" now playing at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, MA. through July 23, 2023. Photo Credit T. Charles Erickson)
However you wish to consider or judge the actual story of the Lehmans, "THE LEHMAN TRILOGY" is an outstanding glimpse at their rise to financial power spanning generations.
The rapid-fire transitions the actors need to make, as they instantly switch from role to role to role, sometimes conversing with themselves as multiple characters, is astounding.
In addition to the first brother to arrive in America (Henry), Steven Skybell adeptly portrays the parts of "Philip Lehman," Emanuel's son; Mayer's wife, "Babette;" and "Ruth Lamar," the self-serving, high maintenance wife of Henry's nephew. He also plays Lehman successors "Pete Peterson" and "Richard 'Dick' Fuld."
Joshua David Robinson as the more conservative Emanuel also effortlessly switches to Mayer's politically motivated son, "Herbert," then later as Lehman successor, "Lewis 'Lew' Glucksman."
As Mayer, Firdous Bamji gives a thoughtful, sensitive portrayal, pivoting to the more frivolous wife of Emanuel, "Pauline," then later as Philip's wife, "Carrie," (split with Robinson), then, finally, as the insightful Lehman grandson, Robert "Bobbie" Lehman, who leads the company into a new century.
(Photo: Steven Skybell as “Henry Lehman” and Firdous Bamji as “Mayer Lehman” in a scene from Stefano Massini's “THE LEHMAN TRILOGY" now playing at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, MA. through July 23, 2023. Photo Credit T. Charles Erickson)
A Musician (Joe LaRocca) follows the Lehmans throughout the entire length of their epic saga, providing (along with some clever sound effects) the most moving, melancholy and poignant musical scoring as required.
The intricate set design combined with proficiently executed technical effects punctuate the various stories told by the actors.
The question ultimately becomes: Is the play, by Stefano Massini and adapted by Ben Power, an essay on capitalism?
The answer isn't that simple. Perhaps it is not as such in total - but it certainly embraces the concept, with characters so self-absorbed and obsessed by their own financial success, that they ultimately become oblivious to their failings and of ongoing issues of race and class struggles.
"THE LEHMAN TRILOGY" continues until July 23rd at the Huntington Theatre and, in this big arena, these "Lehmans" succeed greatly.
Approximately three hours, 30 minutes with two intermissions.
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)
ABOUT THE SHOW
Written by Stefano Massini and adapted into English by Ben Power, "THE LEHMAN TRILOGY" is an epic and timely story of family, ambition, and risk, sprawling across 163 years of history and shining a calculating spotlight on the spectacular rise and fall of Lehman Brothers, a family and a company that changed the world. Carey Perloff ("Rock ‘n’ Roll" and "Mary Stuart" at The Huntington, "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and many others at San Francisco’s ACT) will direct.Performed entirely by three actors, the story follows the original three Lehman brothers, then their sons and grandsons, as they journey from rags to riches to ruin. In 1840s Alabama, a Bavarian immigrant dreams of a better life for his family. By the early 2000s, his descendants trigger unprecedented financial disaster. In a marvel of storytelling, this extraordinary piece of theatre is both an intimate saga about a family and a monumental exposé of unbridled capitalism.
ABOUT THE HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY:
THE HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY is Boston’s leading professional theatre and one of the region’s premier cultural assets since its founding in 1982. Recipient of the 2013 Regional Theatre Tony Award, The Huntington brings together superb local and national talent and produces a mix of groundbreaking new works and classics made current to create award-winning productions. The Huntington runs nationally renowned programs in education and new play development and serves the local theatre community through its operation of the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. The Huntington has long been an anchor cultural institution of Huntington Avenue, the Avenue of the Arts, and will remain so on a permanent basis with plans to convert the Huntington Avenue Theatre into a first-rate, modern venue with expanded services to audiences, artists, and the community. The Huntington cultivates, celebrates, and champions theatre as an art form.
For more information, visit huntingtontheatre.org.