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Review Roundup: THE LEHMAN TRILOGY North American Premiere

Review Roundup: THE LEHMAN TRILOGY North American Premiere

West End hit The Lehman Trilogy is currently making its North American debut at the Park Avenue Armory.

From the arrival of three brothers from Bavaria to America in search of a new life to the collapse of the firm they established, triggering the largest financial crisis in history, the story of the Lehman Brothers traces the trajectory of western capitalism by following the fortunes of a single immigrant family. Originally documented by Italian playwright Stefano Massini, this vast and poetic play gets a thrilling new life at the Armory following a sold-out run at the National Theatre in London in an adaptation by Ben Power and directed by Sam Mendes.

Adam Godley, Ben Miles, and Simon Russell Beale reprise their critically acclaimed portrayals of the Lehman Brothers, their sons, and grandsons spanning nearly two centuries and told in three parts on a single evening. Es Devlin's set coupled with Luke Halls's video design provides a panorama of a changing American landscape against which the dynastic drama unfolds. Making its highly anticipated North American premiere, this electrifying production serves as a parable of the shifting definition of the American dream.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: In the beginning, there is nothing. And in the end, there is - nothing, once again. Such is the way of all flesh, no? And, since the subject here is the accumulation of money, let's say the way of all cash, too. But in this case, out of nothing there emerges such a heaving ferment of aspiration, energy, tenacity and audacity that you're left reeling by the scope and vitality of it all.

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: The superb British actors Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley narrate and embody generations of Lehman men (and women) in a tale of immigrant aspiration, American ingenuity and the outstretching of dynastic arms - until they overreach. An overconfidence fueled by a faith in capitalism everlasting eventually undoes the dynasty. And while it takes 3½ hours for "The Lehman Trilogy" to chronicle Lehman Brothers' flourishing and ultimate doom, the dexterity of this stagecraft makes it feel like half that.

Matt Windman, amNY: One would not have expected a play such as this to succeed - but indeed it does thanks to Massini's distinct viewpoint, Mendes' precise direction (which makes the production feel both sweeping and intimate), panoramic visuals, and live piano music that reflects each mood swing. The play's three leading men flexibly leapfrog between creating immense dramatic personas, making small comical cameos and speaking to the audience - sharp, versatile performances all round.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Adapted into English with a surgeon's skill, a poet's grasp of language and not a hint of didacticism by Ben Power from Italian writer Stefano Massini's epic work, the play has been condensed from its original five-hour form into three one-hour parts to be consumed in a single sitting. And in Sam Mendes' exhilarating production, that time flies by just like the decades that separate Henry Lehman's arrival in New York from Bavaria in 1844 from the ignominious collapse in 2008 of Lehman Brothers, the banking giant built up by his siblings and their heirs, which became synonymous with the subprime mortgage crisis and the crippling economic recession that followed.

Kyle Smith, National Review: The intertwined histories of American business and finance - our great capitalist saga - hold virtually zero interest to cultural elites. The entire library of American cinema and theater contains few works that set out to celebrate or even dispassionately to chronicle, rather than savage or satirize, the details of how great businesses were made and the wonders they wrought. That's why the three-hour staging of the history of Lehman Brothers is such a surprising - no, staggering - achievement. Housed in the suitably august Park Avenue Armory in New York City, The Lehman Trilogy is one of the finest plays I've ever seen.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: The playing of that piano, coupled with the language and stunning projections behind the cube by Luke Halls, take us from the plantations of slavery-era Alabama to glassy 21st-century Manhattan, and underscore the dream-like quality of the play. Sometimes, New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty face us. And when the swinging 60s hit, and all three actors are doing the Twist while standing on boxes, suddenly the projections fizz and blur to an intense, mesmerizing rapidity. The story is grand, and yet also very self-contained, timid, and safe; this is more allegory than history and more factsheet than drama.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: It's a tour de force of direction and writing and Devlin's set rarely rests under Jon Clark's always dramatic lighting. Better yet, the designer's big glass box is framed by a IMAX-like cyclorama that keeps updating us on the physical rise of Manhattan's ever-changing skyline - until we're literally swamped in nothing but office buildings (stunning videos by Luke Halls). Also thrilling is the depiction of a plantation fire much earlier in the story that the first Lehman brothers exploit to grow their store from a pop-and-pop operation to a major force in the cotton business.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: There's something Candide-like about The Lehman Trilogy: It's a hero's progress, a parable, and it prizes lightness and wit. But Voltaire had an unmistakable opinion about his questionable hero, a moral center that expressed itself in sparkling irony. Massini, by way of Power, seemingly has no judgment to pass upon his insatiable little pilgrims, climbing the golden ladder in their best of all possible worlds. Or perhaps it's not a matter of judgment-which can easily turn into self-righteousness and crush a play to death-but of curiosity. While The Lehman Trilogy is frequently captivating as an act of telling, it doesn't seem to be doing much asking, or to be encouraging us to do much asking either.

Elysa Gardner, New York Stage Review: But Trilogy is nonetheless a masterful work on its own terms, its economy and directness serving to reconcile an expansive, gripping narrative with a strong lyrical bent. Massini and Power make artful, if sometimes obvious, use of repeated lines, patterns and allusions. There are a number of Old Testament references, informing a series of nightmare sequences that link three generations, nodding to the Tower of Babel and Noah and the Flood, which becomes a metaphor for the bank's troubles in the wake of the Depression.

Steven Suskin, New York Stage Review: The current Broadway season has offered at least two altogether magnificent new plays, not including the spring offerings to come (at least one of which, based on its excellent London production, is likely to join that stellar pair). But the attention of theatergoers in search of dramatic excellence detours this week to Lenox Hill, where The Lehman Trilogy is on vibrant if altogether too brief display at the Park Avenue Armory through April 20.

David Cote, Theater News Online: So it's testament to the virtuoso acting by Beale, Miles and Godley, under Mendes' meticulous, highly choreographed staging, that you still lean forward as the emotional stakes drain and the telescoping of boardroom turnover/takeover becomes a bit banal and deadening. Still, by the end of this remarkable saga of greed and hard work, after the deaths of several salesmen, you must admit: Attention has been paid.

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