Review: In “The Lehman Trilogy”, a living tale of profit and pain
“Everything that was built here was built on a crime,” says the doctor. “The roots are so deep you can’t see them, but the ground beneath our feet is poisoned. It had to end this way.
This is, of course, a warning that the pattern of reckless profit and resulting pain will repeat itself: in the crash of 1929, which Lehman Brothers managed to survive by transforming once again, and in the crash of 2008 , It was not the case. It’s also a signal that the founders of the company – whose deaths, when they occur, are supposed to move us, and do – weren’t the best ethics of their more vulgar descendants.
With a felted and filmic score by Nick Powell, played live by Candida Caldicot on the upright piano, “The Lehman Trilogy” is structured in three parts. It follows Emanuel and Mayer to New York City, and their family through successive generations, whose directors we first meet in childhood.
Here is the son of Emanuel, Philip (Beale), a future shark, while a toddler speechless urged to show his intelligence for the guests. Here is Philip’s son Bobby (Godley) as a 10-year-old boy, whose father mercilessly dismantles the boy’s love for horses as creatures rather than commodities.
And most enchanting here is Mayer’s son Herbert (Lester), future Governor and Senator, as a 3-year-old thumbsucker playing with his father’s beard, and later as a just 9-year-old. in the Hebrew school, opposing the divine slaughter of the innocent children of Egypt.
No matter how horrible some of the Lehmans get (not Herbert, however; never Herbert), knowing them young dampens our feelings for them later. It’s human nature. What is disturbing is which people in this saga of capitalism we see portrayed, which people the play helps us to imagine clearly, and which people we are asked to imagine vaguely or not at all. Proximity shapes our sympathies.
“The Lehman Trilogy” exists because of the cascading financial catastrophe that shut down Lehman Brothers in 2008, but its perspective is quite from the height of that deluge. Any prejudice that crumbles below is an abstraction at best, just like in 1929, when the play shows us the suicides of desperate stockbrokers, but none of the pain radiating into lower social strata. And slavery, the founder of the family celebration, is kept in limbo, out of the way.