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The Lehman Trilogy

By Stefano Massini

Adapted by Ben Power

Directed by Carey Perloff


The Lehman Trilogy” is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.

The Huntington Theatre
264 Huntington Ave. Boston, MA 02115

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Approximate run time: 3 hours 35 minutes with two intermissions.

Content advisory: This production contains haze and fog effects, as well as gunshot sounds and brief strobing. For more content advisories regarding this production, please click here.

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Show Synopsis:

Written by Stefano Massini and adapted into English by Ben PowerThe Lehman Trilogy is an epic and timely story of family, ambition, and risk, sprawling across 163 years of history and shining a calculating spotlight on the spectacular rise and fall of Lehman Brothers, a family and a company that changed the world. Carey Perloff (Rock ‘n’ Roll and Mary Stuart at The Huntington, A Thousand Splendid Suns and many others at San Francisco’s ACT) will direct.

Performed entirely by three actors, the story follows the original three Lehman brothers, then their sons and grandsons, as they journey from rags to riches to ruin. In 1840s Alabama, a Bavarian immigrant dreams of a better life for his family. By the early 2000s, his descendants trigger unprecedented financial disaster. In a marvel of storytelling, this extraordinary piece of theatre is both an intimate saga about a family and a monumental exposé of unbridled capitalism.

“Absorbing! Ambitious! Superb in execution! A stellar cast of three”

The Boston Globe

“An astonishing theatrical coup!”

Chris Ehlers, Boston Theater Critics Association

“Thrilling! Powerfully directed by Carey Perloff. Superbly rendered by Steven Skybell, Joshua David Robinson, and Firdous Bamji”


“A dazzling piece of story-telling.”

Time Out

“A must-see event.  Epic in every conceivable way.  You dare not miss it.”

NY Post

“Behold it with wonder.”

NY Times

“A Masterwork.”

The Times

A triumph.  Exhilarating and sublime.

The Washington Post


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Cast & Crew

Joshua David Robinson

Emanuel Lehman

Steven Skybell

Henry Lehman

Firdous Bamji

Mayer Lehman

Joe LaRocca


Matthew Bretschneider

U/S Mayer Lehman

Scott Wentworth

U/S Henry Lehman

Kadahj Bennett

U/S Emanuel Lehman

Todd Brunel

U/S Musician

Stefano Massini


Ben Power


Carey Perloff


Avital Shira

Assistant Director

Julie Felise Dubiner


Sara Brown

Scenic Designer

Dede Ayite

Costume Designer

Robert Wierzel

Lighting Designer

Mark Bennett

Original Music and Co-Sound Designer

Charles Coes

Co-Sound Designer

Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew

Projection Designer

Misha Shields

Movement Consultant

Lee Nishri-Howitt

Voice Coach

Emily F. McMullen

Production Stage Manager

Lucas Bryce Dixon

Stage Manager

Additional Staff for The Lehman Trilogy

Assistant Director………………………………..Avital Shira

Voice Coach……………………………….Lee Nishri-Howitt

Assistant to Composer……..John-William Gambrell

Historical Consultant……………………Kyera Singleton

Production Assistants……………………Hannah Marks, Kailey Pelletier, Kendyl Trott

Set Design Assistant………………………………………Li Jin

Carpenters………………………………………..Steven Asaro, Tali Cargill, Joe Ellard, Kalika Reece, Frida Swallow, Michelle Walker, Amy West

First Costumer………………………………..Blue Barber, Sam Martin

Stitcher……………………………Ana-Ayanna Escalante

Wardrobe Swing…………………………….Jennie Fuchs

Associate Lighting Design…………Andrew F. Griffin

Season Electrician………………………..Anna Brevetti

Electricians…………………………………….Zack Connell, Kevin Fulton, Violet Gayzagian, Greg Hanawalt, Joseph Lark-Riley, Isaak Olson, Cindy Wade

Associate Sound Design……………………Aubrey Dube

Audio Run (A2)………………………….Lexie Lankiewicz

Associate Projections Designer……………………………… Robin A. Ediger-Seto

Projections Programmer……………..Cheyenne Doczi

Brighter Boston Interns………………..Dillon Brooks, Nicolas Nolasco

An Interview with Dr. Singleton

Interview by Oswaldo “Oz” Pereira


Oz: How does slavery intersect with The Lehman Trilogy?

Dr. Singleton: I think the play is about the erasure of slavery. Although the Lehmans build their wealth from what they refer to as “Alabama Gold,” and what we know of as cotton, slavery is relegated to the background except in fleeting mentions of plantations, slave quarters, and overseers. Cotton was an industry built off the compelled and free labor of the Black women, men, and children who lived and worked on those plantations. Yet, there are no enslaved people in the play. The Lehman Trilogy sidesteps who built this wealth and how central slavery is to not only the wealth of the Lehman Brothers but also, to the development of the American economy.

Slavery within this play is relegated to the background except in fleeting mentions of plantations, slave quarters, and overseers. The play does not implicate the brothers as enslavers themselves. So, when asked if the play is about slavery, I believe the play cannot not be about slavery, because enslaved people are the financial backing of the Lehman Brothers. The play is not about slavery in the way that it should be. And I think if it were about slavery, then we would have to really implicate the Lehman Brothers more so than them just showcasing a “rags to riches” stories. The play in many ways is about a myth of slavery, which is that slavery is not responsible for the wealth of this country when it very much is so.

Oz: Did the Lehman’s own enslaved people?

Dr. Singleton: Not only did the Lehman’s participate in the business of slavery through buying and trading cotton, tobacco, and coffee, they were also enslavers. We know that on or around March 16th, 1854, H. Lehman and Brother, (which was the company at that time), purchased an enslaved young girl by the name of Martha. She was around 14 years old and was purchased for about $900. Although the story begins with Henry Lehman running a dry goods store, within the first decade of moving to Alabama, he purchases at least two enslaved people. His younger brother, Mayer, also purchases and enslaves at least seven people.

We should always remember that these enslaved people had lives, they had families, they had hopes and they had dreams. And while we might not always have the historical records to talk about their interior worlds what is important is to call out their names and to make it very clear that they existed. We cannot necessarily track her story after the war. But I think it is important that we honor her and the other people who were enslaved by the Lehman’s.

Oz: How are the Lehman’s emblematic of how our country relates to the history of slavery?

Dr. Singleton: Black women, men, and children were bought, sold, traded, gifted in wills, and leveraged as credit and collateral. The American Dream the Lehmans pursued was an American Nightmare for enslaved people and their descendants forced to endure centuries of slavery, sharecropping, disenfranchisement, and racist policies that resulted in unfair labor practices, under resourced school systems, housing and wealth inequities amongst Black Americans today. The wealth built off the backs of Black people during slavery manifests in the fact that the average net worth of a Black family in Massachusetts is $8 dollars compared to $250,000 for white families.

When we talk about restorative justice, we must examine and discuss the impact of slavery. The descendants of the people harmed in the play. In The Lehman Trilogy we do not see enslaved people. The Lehman’s view enslaved people not as people, but as capital, and thus, their existence becomes an abstraction for the audience. Slavery is foundational to this country’s economy, foundational to the industries that exist today: Banking, Finance, Insurance, Agriculture (just to name a few) are all founded in the enslavement and free and/or exploited labor of Black Americans.

Oz: Is The Lehman Trilogy historically accurate?

Dr. Singleton: This is a play, and therefore does not need to be historically accurate. The language is beautiful, it’s extremely well written; a moving and captivating play. However, it feels to me the play asks us to empathize with the Lehman’s and other characters causing great harm. We don’t see how the Lehman’s impact the people beyond themselves and that, to me, is something that is hard to reconcile. The stories of those impacted matter, and it’s important for audiences to understand that the actions of the Lehman’s have real consequences for Black, Brown, Immigrant, and Indigenous communities today.


Oz: I think if we really look at the play critically, it serves as a reflection of what America is, right? History as told within the play mirrors the version of American history pushed onto us, does it not?

Dr. Singleton: That is a good point. In a free and fair capitalist society we buy and sell without preference, without distinction, White or Black. We are all “equal” in America, free to pursue the American Dream. The myth of the American dream is that anyone can pull themselves up by the bootstraps and obtain the level of wealth of the Lehman’s obtained. The Lehman’s built their wealth off enforced and exploitive labor, and to your point the play does allow the myth of American exceptionalism to exist and manifest. It’s a fiction that people still hold on today, regardless of what history teaches us.

Oz: The Lehman’s invested into more than just cotton. How did the Lehman’s affect the lives of Black people globally?

Dr. Singleton: The Lehman’s invested in many industries: cotton, sugar, coffee, tobacco, railroads, infrastructure, and film. The Lehman’s invested into the construction of The Panama Canal, which was constructed using forced Black labor. Plantations in Latin America used forced and exploitive labor to farm their crops. The 1933 film King Kong packaged racist stereotypes of Black and Indigenous people, and becoming one of the most celebrated motion pictures of all time – propagating negative portrayals of Black people for generations to come. The Lehman’s investments affected not only the lives of Black Americans, but, Black people globally!

Oz: Final thoughts for the audience?

Dr. Singleton: We must acknowledge that Black people are not just narrative tools that help us understand one family’s rise and fall. And we cannot talk about slavery without talking about its legacies. More importantly, we lose the stories of Black resistance that are happening globally and simultaneously as the Lehman Corporations pursues more and more capital. The play forces us to ask an important question: whose history is valued and whose history is devalued? While we know the names of the Lehman brothers, we do not know many of the names of the people whose lives were turned upside down in their gross accumulation of wealth. That to me is a tragedy!

However, the harm the Lehman’s caused is not the focus of this play. We do not see enslaved people in this play. We only think of them as abstractions, as capital. And we must acknowledge that Black people are not just narrative tools that help us understand one family’s rise and fall. The Lehman’s built their wealth by actively participating in and fighting for the preservation of slavery. We need look no further than Massachusetts to view an example of Black Americans awarded reparations in the past. In 1783, after 50 years of enslavement, Belinda Stanton was granted her freedom when her former enslaver Isaac Royall fled the country. She petitioned the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a pension, and was awarded reparations in the amount of 15 pounds and 12 shillings to be paid annually until her death. However, the agreement was not honored and Belinda only received two payments following her victory in court.

The Lehman’s enslaved people for profit, and now the descendants of those enslaved are suing the Lehman Corporation for reparations. Black Americans descendant of those enslaved are owed compensation for the labor that created the wealth these institutions were birthed from.

Interview with Stephen Whitfield

Interview by Julie Felise Dubiner

Stephen Whitfield
 is an emeritus professor of American Studies at Brandeis University and, in addition to many books, articles, and studies, is the author of the article 
Merchants: The Marrow of the Southern Jewish Experience.


The Lehman Trilogy stretches across 150 years – both the story of a family and of a corporation. How can we contextualize the world that the Lehmans entered when they arrived in America?


The Lehman Trilogy marks the intersection of Southern history and Jewish history, especially in the antebellum period, in that first section of the play.  The three brothers arrived in Alabama as part of the second wave of Jewish immigrants to the United States, after the very small first wave of the colonial period, and about four decades before the vaster third wave that constitutes the demographic origins of contemporary Jewry.  The first wave settled basically in ports and coastal cities, beginning in 1654 in New Amsterdam (later called New York).  The third wave came overwhelmingly from eastern Europe (the Tsarist Empire) and from parts of central Europe (the Hapsburg Empire).

Henry, Emanuel and Mayer Lehmann typified the second wave. Immigrants like them tended to come from villages in the German states, rather than from towns or cities.  The Lehmann brothers had not lived in a ghetto, nor did they (as did Jews further to the East) reside in the sorts of towns (or shtetlach) that were predominantly or heavily Jewish.  The play depicts the brothers as observant, in the sense that they celebrate religious holidays and also honor mourning rituals.  But the Lehmanns are already quite acculturated (a process that presumably already began in Bavaria); and little friction is generated as they get absorbed into the social and economic life of Alabama.  They differ from other whites in Montgomery, but the Lehmans are not isolated.  They are engaged with the forces around them.  Though the brothers start out poor, they don’t seem wretchedly or miserably poor.  By contrast a government report in 1900 claimed that the average Jewish immigrant from eastern Europe arrived with $9.


Unlike other European immigrants, the Jews of the Lehmans’ generation did not join the working class, but went into business for themselves, especially in the South. Why?


Generally forbidden from owning land in Europe, and from joining the feudal guilds of craftsmen, Jews historically pursued trade and finance, despite the precariousness of such endeavors and despite the suspicions and superstitions that might dangerously result.  Capitalism required rationality, calculation, deliberation, deference of gratification as well as efforts at planning and foresight.  Such qualities gave immigrant Jews something of a head start when they made their way in America.  They avoided agriculture. “Ol’ Man River” (1927) summarized an occupational predilection.  Jews planted neither taters nor cotton; and in putting family names on the stores that they founded, these merchants and other businessmen would not be forgotten.  Jews preferred self-employment, as the Harvard historian Oscar Handlin once explained.  Independence enabled them to avoid bosses who might be cruel, or arbitrary, or abusive or antisemitic.  Many Jews who arrived in the South before the Civil War started out as peddlers, a role that required little capital, but provided learning experiences.  Successful peddlers sensed how to make sales, how to treat customers, and eventually how to apprize the chances of earning enough to settle down and become small-town entrepreneurs.  As their own bosses, such Jews could keep their shops open on Sundays, if law or custom permitted.  Autonomy enabled these shopkeepers to keep the Sabbath.  Such enterprises offered little if any security, however; and they needed the entire family to work in order to survive.  But with all hands on deck, the family structure could be sustained.


Was there any secret to the success of a family like the Lehmans?

The play suggests that the brothers had an aptitude for noticing needs and opportunities and methods that other merchants failed to discern.  Such attributes are neither palpable nor easily definable.  But however elusive such acumen is, however difficult to specify, the explanation that The Lehman Trilogy gives is as good as any.  But circumstances matter too.  No insurmountable institutional barriers to growth and expansion existed; and the absence of internal tariffs and customs duties enabled the brothers to move easily beyond Montgomery, when they chose to do so.  They were adaptable; they were open to novel ways of enrichment; they even took advantage of disasters like a devastating fire.  Such flexibility, such concentration upon their affairs would be rewarded.

Context should be noted here.  None of the Jewish families that settled in the South flourished as spectacularly as the Lehmans did, but Jewish storeowners made inescapable contributions to the Southern economy in the nineteenth century.  Virtually every Southern town and city harbored Jewish-owned clothing stores, shoe stores, hardware stores and grocery stores.  They introduced the cornucopia of goods that modernizing industries produced to enhance an essentially agrarian way of life.  When there is a Jewish holiday, a Mississippian told an anthropologist in the 1930s, you couldn’t buy a pair of socks anywhere in the entire county.  Sometimes the tiny shops grew into department stores.  Eventually every Southern city had at least one major department store under Jewish ownership.  Though the Lehmans’ triumph in seizing economic opportunities was of course dramatic, it was not freakish or peculiar.  To a lesser extent, probably most Jews in the South prospered, if not as quickly, then at least sufficiently to become pillars of the communities in which the Jews of the nineteenth century and then the twentieth century lived.


Why doesn’t The Lehman Trilogy recount antisemitism?

The simplistic answer is that there wasn’t any — or at least not enough to constitute any sort of impediment to upward mobility.  Antisemitism is notoriously tricky to measure.  But the antebellum South in which the Lehmans operated was rather free of that sort of bigotry, and the obvious explanation is that the white South directed its animus elsewhere.  Jews were generally assumed to exist on the right side of the color line, benefitting from a caste system that gave them a taste of unprecedented freedom — at the expense of enslaved persons of African descent.  The brothers themselves owned slaves, which the play happens to conceal.  It does not explore the inconsistency of participation in a holiday like Passover, which celebrates liberation from Egyptian slavery.  For blacks, Alabama was Egypt.  Henry Lehman does acknowledge that slavery was evil — “a crime” that meant that “the ground beneath our feet is poisoned.”  Although not mentioned in The Lehman Trilogy, evidence of philosemitism could be found in the South.  No region of the United States has been more pious, and Jews benefitted from respect for the religion to which Jesus himself subscribed.

By the late nineteenth century, evidence of considerable antisemitism could be found.  The accumulation of private wealth in cities like New York, where the Lehmans lived, generated social restrictions against Jews who belonged approximately to the same class.  This was snobbery.  Among the other classes (North and South), urbanization and industrialization ignited resentment, anxiety and conflict; and Jews sometimes became victims.  The play shows the Lehmans and their descendants living within a rarified social circle, as stratification emerged more sharply among Jews themselves.  A joke in Alabama, for example, divided Jews into three categories of families, in order of prestige: Weil (pronounced “wheel”), Kreil (pronounced “creel”), or schlemiel.  Denominational consequences are depicted in The Lehman Trilogy too.  The Lehmans belong to a Reform synagogue like Temple Emanu-El, located on elegant Fifth Avenue in New York City.  Reform valued decorum more highly than fervor; differences from Christianity were minimized for the sake of comity and inclusion in America.


How can the rise and fall of the Lehmans serve as a paradigm for the history of American capitalism?

Here I may be getting ahead of my skis.  But the Lehmans should be understood as integral to the national self-definition.  Alexis de Tocqueville generalized that “in democracies nothing is greater or more brilliant than commerce.  It attracts the attention of the public and fills the imagination of the multitude.  All energetic passions are directed toward it.”  By tying their fate to such a society, the Lehmans made themselves into authentic citizens of the rambunctious and dynamic order that the French aristocrat had described a decade before Henry Lehmann’s arrival.  Part I of The Lehman Trilogy shows how imaginatively and cleverly the three brothers became middlemen, or brokers, connecting the cotton that was picked in one part of the nation to the manufacturing demands of clothing and textiles that characterized another part of the nation.  The Lehmans thus helped to entwine economic interests and to enlarge and extend wealth.  But increasingly the Lehmans lost their direct association with actual goods, and prospered instead through abstractions, though the manipulation of financial instruments and services.  An agrarian economy is subject to the caprices of nature.  An industrial economy and then a postindustrial economy are vulnerable to cycles of boom and bust.  The Lehmans survived the catastrophe of October 1929.  In hands other than their own, their enterprise could not survive the debacle of September 2008.  The first generation, for all of its astuteness and tenacity and ambition, need not be romanticized.  That the brothers thrived in a society built on human bondage cannot be deplored enough — even if, for them, what Henry calls in the prologue “that magical music box called America” proved to be harmonious.  But perhaps the larger theme of this remarkable play is the curse of economic instability, the oscillation that capitalism demands between risk and responsibility, and the frustrated hopes of continuity.


Do you have any final thoughts, as a historian? How do you approach this period?

I believe that I caught a couple of small mistakes.  The slaves are described as heading to mass — even though the South was the most thoroughly Protestant part of the Western Hemisphere.  And after the assault on Fort Sumter, the North is elated by the prospect of “end[ing] slavery now.”  At the beginning, however, emancipation was not in any way a war aim.  Of course because the words are those of the brothers, they may have made the mistakes.  Their knowledge is allowed to be imperfect; and they are subject to the treachery of memory.  Fidelity to the records of the past is more than adequate in The Lehman Trilogy, which evokes the contingencies that affect the lives of the protagonists.  How to weigh the competing claims of agency and fate, individual options and structural limits — these are the sorts of dilemmas that historians face, regardless of their particular specialties.  In my own case I have been drawn to American Jewish history and especially Southern Jewish history because they are accoutrements of my own identity, my own need to place my life within the larger pattern of the past.  How minorities like Jewish Americans and African Americans relate not only to one another but also to the larger civic framework strike me as endlessly intriguing — and of course test cases of the vigor of democratic life.  The glories of drama, like the best instances of history, can provide the immediacy of personification to these issues, making them come alive.  Thus the value of The Lehman Trilogy ultimately hinges, of course, upon the transmutations that the wonders of stagecraft can achieve.


Masks are encouraged but are no longer required for any performances.

Anyone who feels uncomfortable can ask the House Manager about alternative options which may include:

  • a better quality mask
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  • re-scheduling for a different performance
  • a shift to the at-home Digital Streaming option, when applicable

Any patron interested in attending a different performance will be able to exchange their tickets by contacting our ticketing services staff.


If on the day of your performance, you are experiencing any COVID symptoms, please reach out to the box office to easily exchange to a different performance.

Please contact Ticketing Services at 617-266-0800 or for more information about exchanges and contact with any questions or concerns.

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