Pick ASR! ~~ “The Lehman Trilogy” Stuns at ACT

By Barry Willis

A family saga may never be better depicted than in The Lehman Trilogy, at ACT’s Toni Rembe Theatre through June 23.

The three-actor, three-hour+ production encompasses the birth, rise, expansion, and ultimate fall of the Lehman Brothers financial empire—from the moment the first hopeful brother arrives in New York from Bavaria with nothing but a suitcase and ambition to the firm’s collapse in late 2008 during the mortgage meltdown crisis, an event that doomed many big banks and institutions. The crisis had a worldwide impact.

(L-R): Actors John Heffernan, Aaron Krohn, and Howard W. Overshown in “The Lehman Trilogy”. Photo credit: Kevin Berne

A touring version of the multiple award-winning National Theatre production directed by Sam Mendes and starring John Heffernan, Aaron Krohn, and Howard W. Overshown as brothers Henry, Mayer, and Emanuel Lehman, respectively, the huge immersive production is a recreation of the first West End show, complete down to its amazing set, overwhelming video effects, and the astounding abilities of its three actors, all in multiple roles—toddlers to codgers, and many incidental characters with a wide range of backgrounds and accents.

… “The Lehman Trilogy” is a master class in character acting …

It’s also a master class in storytelling. Originally written in Italian by Stefano Massini and first produced onstage in 2013, the tale spans approximately 160 years in the family’s history—and massive upheavals in the American economy, in particular the stock market crash of 1929, which Lehman Brothers survived, and the Second World War.

(L-R) Aaron Krohn (Mayer Lehman), John Heffernan (Henry Lehman), Howard W. Overshown (Emanuel Lehman), John Heffernan (Henry Lehman) in the National Theatre and Neal Street Productions’ critically acclaimed, fivetime Tony Award® winning production, “The Lehman Trilogy”, performing at A.C.T.’s Toni Rembe Theater now through Sunday, June 23, 2024. Photo credit: Kevin Berne

Partly narrated in the third person, and partly delivered as straight dialog, the show’s incredibly effective verbosity is leavened by precise editing. We are given enough information to follow the story, but not so much that we get bogged down. The show sails along briskly and never feels overlong despite its more than three-hour run time.

All three performers are superb with characterizations, vocal inflections, and adroit movements on a set that itself is a master class in design—a rotating large open cubicle that serves variously as the brothers’ first cotton brokerage in Montgomery, Alabama; the state governor’s office during Reconstruction; and the New York high-rise headquarters of Lehman Brothers Holdings, where the company’s last rites took place during the mortgage meltdown crisis in 2008. Immersive video projections by Luke Halls surround the faux office, adding a palpable sense of urgency to everything taking place on stage. Rebekah Bruce’s piano accompaniment adds the perfect touch of melodrama.

(L-R): Howard W. Overshown (Emanuel Lehman), John Heffernan (Henry Lehman), & Aaron Krohn (Mayer Lehman) at work in San Francisco. Photo credit: Kevin Berne

The Lehman Trilogy is much more than a tale of three immigrant brothers—and their offspring, who helmed the company until the death of Bobbie Lehman, last of the clan to lead the enterprise. It’s also a spectacularly compelling history of American industry, ingenuity, and ultimately, hubris. “Too big to fail,” was a catch-phrase uttered during the crisis that crushed many global financial powerhouses.

To that, Henry Lehman might have responded, “Baruch Hashem.”


ASR NorCal Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact: barry.m.willis@gmail.com


ProductionThe Lehman Trilogy
Written byStefano Massini, adapted by Ben Power
Directed bySam Mendes
Producing CompanyAmerican Conservatory Theater (ACT)
Production DatesThrough June 23rd
Production AddressToni Rembe Theatre, 415 Geary Street, SF, CA
Telephone(415) 749-2228
Tickets$25 – $147
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!