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Stage: The Lehman Trilogy
This weekend is your last chance to catch Three Bone Theatre's latest production, which Y'all Weekly Theatre Critic Jesse Boykin Kimmel calls "something remarkable for Charlotte theatregoers."
Buy Tickets to the Final Performance of The Lehman Trilogy
Sunday, November 19
Three Bone Theatre at the Arts Factory
1545 West Trade Street
To grow old is to inhabit a new land where the rules of your native country no longer apply. And, as always in a new land, you have to learn a new language. - Rabbi Lewinsohn, The Lehman Trilogy
First performed in 2014, Stefano Massini’s three-actor saga of the Lehman Brothers was originally five hours long.
Translated from the Italian and distilled into three hour-long acts by Ben Power, The Lehman Trilogy took home Best Play at the Tonys last year. At Three Bone Theatre on the West Side this month, audiences are treated to a near seamless account of the ascent of the Lehman Brothers across more than 150 years.
I am sure historians know Henry Lehman arrived on a boat from Germany in 1844, and set up shop in Montgomery, Alabama as a clothier; and that he was joined by his younger brothers, Emanuel and Mayer, and that they built the foundation of the Lehman Corporation.
It is less clear, as the play progresses, what events are artistic license and what is a matter of record.
I won’t do a deep dive into the names, places, facts, and events depicted in this play. Perhaps a forthright divorcee did, in fact, propose marriage to Bobby Lehman rather than the other way around. Perhaps there was a tight rope walker named Solomon Propinski who performed his act high above Wall Street, day after day in the early part of the 20th Century.
To the audience of The Lehman Trilogy, it doesn’t matter if diaries or family testimony support that Henry Lehman had a nightmare of a collapsing roof, or that Emanuel had a nightmare of an oncoming train, or that Emanuel’s grandson Bobby had a nightmare of a falling tower of briefcases. It doesn’t matter exactly what is true and what is not in the minutiae because the play is not a history lesson. It is an illustration of a classic law of ego: we will be the victims of our own unchecked vanity.
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Kevin Shimko, Becca Worthington, and Scott Tynes-Miller are the vessels for this parable, and they are game for the task. Appearing first as the Lehman brothers Henry, Emanuel, and Mayer, they shift regularly, constantly from character, to narrator, to another character, and back again.
Much in the style of a one-man show, the three actors change from the Lehmans to their patrons, their rabbis, their sons, and their wives. Tynes-Miller, in one wonderful sequence, performs as every marriage candidate for a young Philip Lehman. In another he rolls through the character of each of Herbert Lehman’s classmates in schul.
The shape-shifting is constant, and repetition is used throughout to help anchor the audience, like choruses of songs. It is one thing to watch actors manage this for one hour of dialogue and narration, but The Lehman Trilogy is three acts over three hours.
The cooperation and camaraderie between the players is itself a part of the dramatic experience. Each actor manages to bring solemn gravity, great sweetness, and comic relief through the century-and-a-half arc. Worthingon, Shimko, and Tynes-Miller, along with director David Winitsky, have achieved something remarkable for Charlotte theatergoers.
The set, designed by Anita Tripathi, is as pared down as the cast, consisting of a half-wall, filing boxes, a desk, and a leather office chair. The boxes become steps, seats, and pedestals; the slats of the wall come down to become tables and train tracks; in the third act Tynes-Miller bolts pieces of the wall to the desktop with a hand-crank wrench to make a boardroom table. A clockface, in an immense spiral growing from the center of the floor, climbs up the wall. With Kathryn Harding’s carefully timed sound design, these spare elements provide a surprising realism to the telescoping timeline.
Despite its length, the play leaves you hungry for more. Massini keenly senses the parables in the driest subject matter, and shows audiences a real-world drama that changed the world.
The Lehman Trilogy is a new mountain in the landscape of the stage, both on Broadway and on Beatties Ford. Winitsky and his cast of heavy lifters, for their part, have taken on the challenge and set a new bar for the Charlotte theater scene.
The Lehman Trilogy
Presented by Three Bone Theatre
At the Arts Factory at West End Studios
Written by Stefano Massini
Adapted by Ben Power
Directed by David Winitsky
November 3-19, 2023
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.