Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Playwright Stefano Massini and adapter Ben Power move the action fleetly from antebellum Alabama–where the Lehmans profit from enslaved plantation labor as cotton brokers–to New York City; they and the company experience the Civil War, the 1929 stock market crash, and finally the financial upheaval of the early 21st century. Director Arin Arbus has crafted multifaceted performances from the protean actors who, as the years pass, play characters of varying ages, men, women, and children through to old age, as the company ultimately passes out of Lehman family control. (The play runs three and a half hours with two intermissions, but the energy never flags.)
Among the three actors, the anchor is longtime Washington actor Edward Gero, whose roles include both the determined Henry Lehman, the first brother to arrive in America and founder of the business, and his excitable young nephew Philip. René Thornton is hotheaded second brother Emanuel, who works to diversify the family's holdings, and Mark Nelson is youngest brother Meyer, who starts out as a buffer between his brothers before coming into his own. (Meyer's son Herbert leaves the family business to serve as governor of New York and later in the U.S. Senate.) Their interplay is complex but always easy to navigate.
Marsha Ginsburg's non-realistic scenic design takes on many shapes and identities, but high piles of shredded computer paper, resembling sand dunes, are the major focus, along with pieces of furniture and a suspended ceiling panel set with fluorescent lights. The neutral gray walls of the space take on character with Hannah Wasileski's projection designs: cotton fields give way to sepia-tinted New York City streets and skylines, eventually leading to a cacophony of electronic stock tickers.
The Lehman Trilogy runs through March 30, 2024, at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.
By Stefano Massini