Monday, April 22, 2019

The Lehman Trilogy

Stefano Massini’s The Lehman Trilogy,which just completed a run at Park Avenue Armory, is an elegant juxtaposition between the industrial revolution and theatrical innovation. As directed by Sam Mendes, it’s a family drama about the emblematic decline of capitalism (as manifested in the demise of famous financial dynasty) narrated in a glass box that redounds with everything from story theater style narration to epic visual spectacles like Robert Wilson's The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud and The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin. Both the economic and historical analysis and the theatricality are polished and neatly contained. It’s an old-fashioned piece bien fait, a well-made-play, in the form of a groundbreaking piece of theatrical art. These criticisms not withstanding the production creates many trenchant moments that remain with you—in particular the fact that the dramatic conclusion is never is far from the viewer’s consciousness, with the dissolution of the firm during the financial crisis of 2008 memorialized by the packing cartons which are on stage from beginning to end. There are three other historical crises which constitute important elements. An enormous fire destroying many plantations at or near Montgomery, Alabama where they had settled would facilitate, the Lehman Brothers terming themselves "middlemen" in the cotton industry. The Civil War and Black Thursday, 1929 complete the evolution to becoming that form of financial institution now known as an investment bank (at one point one of the brothers says “this is how our recipe works; the flour is money”).With several minor exceptions only three actors occupy the stage. Henry Lehman (Simon Russell Beale), Mayer Lehman (Adam Godley) and Emanuel (Ben Miles) play the original Jewish immigrants and their successors. Multiple role-playing of this kind is powerful and haunting but also leads to some degree of homogenization. And if there's a moral dimension to the drama (after all ambition and exploitation are subsidiary themes), it’s hard to really identify a sense of good or evil as it plays out in what's essentially a value-free scenario. 

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