'The Lehman Trilogy' by Stefano Massini and adapted by Ben Power
Now onstage at Toronto's Bluma Appel Theatre
Credit: Dahlia Katz
‘An epic drama of an informative and entertaining theatre experience.”
An epic three-act, three-hour, two-intermission play, ‘The Lehman Brothers’ follows the lives of three immigrant brothers when they arrived in America in 1840. As the years progressed, the brothers and their descendants founded a banking/investment firm right through to the company's collapse in the major recession in 2008. Three actors play the three brothers and all the roles, from their children to their grandchildren.
Canadian Stage’s production is visually extravagant, thanks to Dana Osborne’s expertly framed period costumes, Steve Lucas’s intently focused lighting design and Camellia Koo’s vast set design of epic proportions.
The production features three of our country’s finest artists: Ben Carlson (Henry), Graeme Somerville (Emmanuel), and Jordan Pettle (Mayer). Henry is referred to as The Head. Emmanuel is known as The Arm, while Mayer is known as the Potato. Directed with a clear purpose and vision in seeing the grand machinations of the world of finance by Philip Akin who knows a thing or two about creating a theatrical experience, ‘Lehman’ resonates not just with Americans or Canadians but with anyone who dreams big and is willing to put everything on the line to achieve that goal. Henry, Mayer, and Emmanuel are Bavarian Jewish immigrants with big plans. In the first act, they succeed in the cotton industry in Alabama. However, the arrival of the American Civil placed a kibosh on their cotton industry with the rightful eradication of slavery.
The second and third acts involve forming and expanding the brothers' investment/banking firm. Granted, I don’t understand everything about the world of finance that I probably should at this stage in my life. Some of the information shared in the dialogue proverbially went in one ear and out the other as my brain went into plot overload. Nevertheless, the precarious highs and lows of the banking industry and all the interconnectedness therein are admirably captured on stage. This CanStage production makes for an informative and entertaining theatre treat.
Carlson, Somerville and Pettle are extraordinary. They command the stage in their primary and, subsequently, their secondary roles with grit and determination. Each presents a character of sharp and vigorous detail, and as Akin writes in his Director’s Programme Note: “[the brothers came to] a place where dreams can be achieved if you work hard/where opportunity is all around you if you can only see it.” One memorable segment is Pettle’s recreation of the voices of several people. A necessary comic moment to help balance the heavy drama, but it accurately shows how Pettle, Somerville and Carlson always remain in grounded control of their performances.
The first line of the play – “He had been dreaming of America”, for some reason, made me think of Arthur Miller’s tragic Willy Loman, the failed salesman who dreams of corporate America and how he wanted to walk out wealthy from it, but sadly doesn’t. This connection remained as I listened to Stefano Massani’s wordy play (with Ben Powers’ adaptation) unfold before me.
I couldn’t shake the connection to Willy Loman from my mind as it became further emphasized in studying Koo’s extensive set design. There was so much to study, but I couldn’t because I didn’t want to distract my attention from the story’s action. Nevertheless, the connection to Willy is heightened by seeing the feet of what appeared to be individuals from long ago running along the apron of the stage. Do these feet belong to all Willy Lomans from long ago upon whom the story of the Lehman Brothers is built?
At first, it’s shocking to see these appendages, especially watching Pettle, Carlson, and Somerville ascend and descend the set’s varied reconstructions. Further careful consideration makes a lot of sense that it just might be what Koo intends. I also wondered if she was making a critical connective comment to the First Nations Peoples and their first footprints upon which the lives and businesses of North America are set today.
Final Comments: A visual solid historical commentary of the wonders and blunders of corporate America punctuated by strong performances. Go and see it. A talkback or pre-show chat might also be advantageous.
Running time: approximately 3 hours with two intermissions.
‘The Lehman Trilogy’ runs until December 2 at The Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front Street East. For tickets, visit canadianstage.com or call 416-368-3110.
CANADIAN STAGE presents the Canadian premiere of
THE LEHMAN TRILOGY, written by Stefano Massini and adapted by Ben Power
Director: Philip Akin
Assistant Director: Jordan Laffrenier
Set Designer: Camilla Koo
Costume Designer: Dana Osborne
Lighting Designer: Steve Lucas
Sound Designer: Miquelon Rodriguez
Movement Designer: Alexis Milligan
Dialect Coach: Jane Gooderham
Cultural Consultant: Diane Flacks and Miriam Borden
Stage Manager: Matthew MacInnis
The Cast: Ben Carlson, Jordan Pettle, Graeme Somerville