The Lehman Trilogy
I've written here before about National Theatre Live, which streams live (or delayed) productions into movie houses across the country. Yesterday, I went to a matinee of their production of The Lehman Trilogy. It’s about the three Lehman Brothers who came to America in 1844 and takes us through the firm and family’s life until it went out of business in the 2008 crash. My TV showrtunner friend Jeff Melvoin -- who's in London working on Killing Eve -- saw the show there in the theatre a few weeks back and raved about, so I figured I should be in for a good afternoon
It was spectacular. It’s now on the list of “best plays and productions I’ve seen.” Yes, it was that wonderful.
The script by Ben Power, adapted for a much-longer original by Stefano Missini, is magnificent and eloquent, almost poetic in its language. It's 3-1/2 hours adapted from an eight-hour Italian radio production, which Missini turned into a four-hour French production. (To be clear, it's one play, not three despite being called a "trilogy." That's a reference to how the story is broken up by its three acts.)
The acting is remarkable – just three actors who play over 100 parts: the brothers, their sons and grandsons, wives and daughters, and business associates and many others, narrating the play perhaps even more than doing its dialogue. One of them is Simon Russell Beale who was one of my dad’s favorite actors from my folks trips to London over the years. Another is Ben Miles who, if you watched The Crown played the government minister Peter Townsend who Princess Margaret wanted to marry but was never allowed. The third is Adam Godley who has three Olivier nominations and a Tony nomination. They were all brilliant, and it’s a Master Class in acting. In fact, all three actors were nominated as Best Actor at the Olivier Awards – no, not individually, but together as a three-person “Best Actor”!! They are that intertwined. And onstage together literally the entire time.
The direction by the acclaimed Sam Mendes is enthralling – it’s basically performed in a large box onstage that tends to rotate the entire show, employs a fascinating use of back projections has the ever-swirling actors moving file boxes around as props the whole evening. I told my friend in London last night that while many have described the production as being like a Homeric epic poem (and I understand the comparison), I looked at it more as a ballet in the form of a dramatic play, since it is so “intertwined” and flowing. Jeff thought it a good observation, and then when watching an interview this morning with director Mendes and Power, Mendes says it was the “most choreographed work I’ve ever done.” So, I was closer than I thought...
When raving about the play to some friends last night, I first checked to see if they had a chance of seeing it. Fortunately, the National Theatre Live productions don't sync up with one another everywhere and some get repeated, so there are still some productions to catch, hopefully in your area. Just go here and enter your zip code into the location box and hope for the best. As of this morning, there were two additional screening in Los Angeles on the UCLA campus over the next two months -- though one is sold out and the other only had seven seats left. But there's also one in February in Irvine, in Orange County. On the more hopeful side, they do tend to repeat shows every few years, so it's worth checking. But then, you might as well look regularly just to see what other great things they have going. (And to anyone back in Chicago, there's a September encore downtown and one at Northwestern University in November, and there appear to be seats available.)
This is a trailer for the play. It doesn’t come even remotely close to doing the 3-1/2-hour flowing masterpiece justice, but you’ll see the craft and also what I mean about the rotating box. (Below, that's Simon Russell Beale on the left, Miles in the center and Godley on the right.)
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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