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MEAN GIRLS on Broadway


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Adam Godley, Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles
HENRY EDWARDS - NEW YORK - April 16, 2019








After a critically-acclaimed stint in London’s National Theater, “The Lehman Trilogy” has arrived at the Park Avenue Armory for 33 performances and the brief engagement has turned into the must-see event of the theatre season.

The show – it runs a supersized three hours 30 minutes (three acts and two intermissions) - has been virtually sold out long before opening night. Tickets to the best locations in the vast 1,500-seat Wade Thompson Drill Hall run $450 apiece; StubHub is charging $1,200 to $2,000 for the final performances.

What are audiences paying so much to see?

A program note in the giant-sized program characterizes the play as “the story of Western Capitalism told through a single family.”

How’s that for a grandiose concept?

Three 19th-century Jewish-German immigrant brothers, Henry, Emanuel and Mayer Lehman, and their descendants, comprise the “single family.”

I didn’t know a thing about the brothers. (Did you?)

What I am sure we all knew was that Lehman Brothers went bust on September 15, 2008 after being operational for 158 years, and it was the largest bankruptcy in history.

The public credited the failure as the seminal event that literally pushed capitalism to the brink.

In reality, even though the downfall greatly intensified the 2008 financial crisis and Americans lost an estimated average of more than a quarter of their collective net worth, the disaster was primarily caused by deregulation in the financial industry.

Nevertheless, the name “Lehman” became –and remains - synonymous with Wall Street hubris at its very worst.

“The Lehman Trilogy” begins and ends with the debacle, yet devotes little stage time to it.

The “story of Western Capitalism” turns out to be a history play that outlines the story of the original three Lehman brothers; their sons Philip and Herbert,  inheritors of  the firm; and finally, grandson Bobbie who ran the global giant into the ground.

Twenty-three--year-old Hayum Lehmann’s arrival in New York from Bavaria in 1844 (immigration changes his name to Henry Lehman) launches the play; younger starting brothers, Emanuel (ne Mendel) and Mayer, follow over the next six years.

Over the course of 164 years, three generations of Lehmans navigate their way from humble beginnings to the creation and operation of a major financial institution positioned at the heart of the world economy.

Upon arriving in America, Henry, the son of a Bavarian cattle merchant, brims with astonishment, trepidation and a sense of infinite possibilities.

He says of himself: “He took a deep breath and walking quickly, despite not knowing where to go, like so many others he stepped into the magical music box called America.”

The brothers start out as storekeepers in Montgomery, Alabama, where they sell cloth by the inch and basic home goods to poor Southerners.

Blessed with tenacity and good luck, successively – and successfully – they keep reinventing themselves, creating a primitive credit system, inventing the concept of “middleman,” and evolving into a lending bank, then an investment bank and finally a trading house.

Their core commodity slowly becomes money and their firm Lehman Brothers makes a specialty of monetizing catastrophes, including burned-down plantations, world wars, the Wall Street crash, nuclear tensions.

Within the magical music box of America, Lehman Brothers fulfills the potential of the American Dream by financing the railroads; the Panama Canal; Ford cars; oil wells; Sears, Roebuck & Co.; cigarettes; Pan American Airways; movies that include blockbusters “King Kong” and “Gone with the Wind”;  the rise of television; computing; and weaponry.

“The Lehman Trilogy” is a vastly entertaining (and superficial) look at the initiative, ambition and insatiable hunger for money that built modern capitalism. At the same time, the multigenerational story of expansion, acquisition and loss skirts the corruption, hubris and rapacious greed that destroys its own creation and almost takes the world with it in 2008.

It’s up to the audience to decide whether what they have witnessed is business as usual or the unacceptable face of capitalism.

“The Lehman Trilogy” started life in 2013 as a radio play by Italian dramatist and essayist Stefano Massini who later adapted his script into a five-hour stage version.

In 2015, British Olivier-and Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes discovered the play at The Piccolo in Milan. Subsequently, he took a strong hand in the creation of an English language version that he planned to direct for the National Theatre.

National Theatre associate director Ben Power is responsible for the creation of the current three-hour English language version.

Power wisely chooses to treat the real-life chronicle as if a novel. The characters describe their characters, their settings and their histories in the third person with only occasional dialogue, and somehow the writing is so fluid and vibrant, the approach works.

And that is not the first surprise.

Sam Mendes may be the first in memory to rely on ceaselessly inventive and surprising minimalist elements in order to create an epic theatrical experience.

Talk about outrageous decisions. Mendes cast a mere three actors to portray everybody who puts in an appearance during the 156-year saga, including the brothers, their descendants, spouses, colleagues, rivals and employees..

Two-time Olivier award-winner Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles (Captain Peter Townsend in “The Crown”) and three-time Olivier nominee Adam Godley take up the challenge. 

Carrying forth in the tradition of Britain’s most notable story-theater production, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s fabled “Nicholas Nickleby,” the trio delivers a stunning display of skill, dexterity, imagination and endurance.

Just to give you a notion of what they are up to, Adam Godley portrays 42 characters, counting one character at various ages.

Russell Beale is first seen as Henry Lehman, Miles as Emanuel, and Godley as Mayer.

They wear black mid-19th-century frock coats (Katrina Lindsay of “Harry Potter (and the Cursed Child” is the costume designer) and never change out of them as they tell the story and deliver brief, sharp impersonations as they metamorphose from one character to another.

Though the original siblings are long dead before the play ends, they remain on stage, functioning as guides and observers.

Simon Russell Beale and Miss Liberty

Russell Beale is a touching Henry Lehman, who sadly succumbs to yellow fever at the age of 33; Emanuel’s son, ruthless capitalist sharp shooter Philip Lehman; a demure 19th-century Southern miss; a libidinous 20th-century divorcée who marries into the clan, only to regret it; a two-year-old child; a centenarian rabbi, and (believe this) a slave, slave-owner and the governor of Alabama.

Miles is an imposing Emanuel Lehman; Mayer’s son Herbert, who "wanted things to be fair” and ended up a liberal politician with a second career as governor of New York; and Lewis Glucksman, the tough-guy trader whose fierce battle for control of Lehman Brothers in 1983 was a curtain-raiser for the titanic struggles of ego and that swept Wall Street over the next decade. 

Godley creates an earnest Mayer Lehman, the youngest of the three brothers, the last member of the family to helm the firm, Philip’s elderly son Bobbie, whose creepy dance that he performs to mark the company’s precipitous expansion causes his death; and eight women who are rival potential wives for Russell Beale’s Philip Lehman.

There’s no denying it’s a stunt, and it’s such a dazzling and dexterous stunt you feel ashamed to wonder what it would have been like had there been more drama and conflict for the actors to chew over.

Es Devlin’s set provides another dose of astonishment.

Her superlative eye candy is made up of a huge, gleaming 800-square-foot transparent glass cube (nine panes weighing between 750 and 1,000 pounds were used in its construction) mounted on a turntable, and surrounded by a black background and an enormous curved cyclorama on which are projected splendid, often startling, mostly black-and-white video images designed by Luke Halls.

Devlin’s cube is divided into quadrants with three small interconnecting spaces and a much larger antiseptic twenty-first-century board room.

The effect is that of a single floor of a corporate skyscraper floating in space.

The cube revolves almost continuously as unobtrusive pianist Candida Caldicot accompanies the action playing mood-setting music by Nick Powell.

Huge gasp inducing images surround the cube.  We see waves, flames, cotton fields, clouds, the Statue of Liberty stranded in the middle of the ocean; stock market boards that move, faster and faster, until they are nothing but a blur; a cotton field that suddenly sprouts a nightmarish Industrial Revolution factory.

The New York skyline morphs, bit by bit, over a century-and-a-half from a small collection of pre-Civil War warehouses to a stunning view of contemporary Manhattan at night.

Every generation of the family is plagued by prophetic nightmares (of stacks of coins wobbling as they get higher, roofs of houses caving in) and color is utilized strictly in these unnerving videos.

When Bobbie Lehman dies in 1969, he leaves no heirs. For the first time, the firm is not led by a Lehman.

In the third act, which is the weakest, risk-taking traders operate in a deregulated market – with disastrous consequences.  As the end approaches the visuals blur and the office spins at a dizzying pace. Fifteen of the firm’s employees gather and wait hear of the company’s closing. The telephone rings and the play is over.

“The Lehman Trilogy” is mammoth, dazzling, and filled with flair and energy. The actors, design team and director are brilliant. But entertaining us doesn’t seem to me to be enough.

Shouldn’t we at least the very least be unsettled by the Lehmans and their legacy and the brand of capitalism they practiced and inspired? 

















Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, Ben Miles


More information: Park Avenue Armory



Zoë Winters and Daveed Diggs
BY HENRY EDWARDS - NEW YORK - April 10, 2019

In 2018, The New York Times declared Suzan-Lori Parks’ 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning two-hander, “Top/Dog,” the best play of the last 25 years, and its prolific author “the most consistently inventive and venturesome American dramatist working today."

Parks is first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer in Drama (no biography of her lets you forget it).

She regularly applies rich language, symbols, metaphor and an ever-changing stylistic lens (symbolist fever dream; Brechtian fable; Homeric epic) to the troubled subject of racial and sexual identities, resulting in a body of work of striking originality.

Parks’ 19th play, “White Noise,” recently made its debut at the Public Theater, and it just might be the writer’s first venture into the realistic genre – at least during its first half.  The realism takes on surrealist overtones as the three-hour-long play charges to its conclusion.

But it is not all that easy to apply the label of “surreal” to Parks’ acute dramatization of the impossibility of blacks and whites achieving a legitimate friendship And we happen to living in a time so surreal that the current administration chalked up more than 200 examples of racism in the first 19 months of its existence and appears to have an ideological commitment to enabling white supremacists.

Credit a new classification system renders for rendering it impossible for the public or even elected officials to know whether the FBI is dedicating resources to investigating the very real threat of white supremacist terror or if those resources are going toward the harassment of Black Lives Matter and civil rights workers.

“White Noise” is fascinating and disturbing, and it inspired a journalist to ask the author if she was “conscious of the fact much of the audience at your plays is white?”

Parks had the perfect answer: “Yes, but they’re ready to do the work. It might still freak them out, but they are excited by the engagement that I’m asking of them . . . My job, to quote James Baldwin [her former teacher], is to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”

I was ready.

The play revolves around two interracial couples who are best friends, Leo (Daveed Diggs) and Dawn (Zoë Winters), and Ralph (Thomas Sadoski) and Misha (Sheria Irving), with the narrative threaded through the character of Leo.

Leo is a black visual artist; Dawn, an ambitious criminal defense lawyer; Ralph, a wealthy unpublished novelist and part-time college writing professor; and Misha the host a live-streamed, call-in web show accurately titled “Ask a Black.”

Leo previously dated Misha and Ralph dated Dawn.

 “And then we all broke up and … got reconfigured in different ways,” explains Leo.

The “reconfiguration” includes three years of Dawn and Misha sharing a secret sexual involvement and a continuation of Ralph’s incurable cheating habit.

The foursome exudes a cool and contemporary, thirty-something urban hipster vibe. From a distance, they seem to be inhabitants of a real-life version of a fantasy post-racial America free from racial preference, discrimination and prejudice where color does not matter.

Looking closer tells another story.

Parks provides each member of the quartet with a potent monologue. Leo’s soliloquy launches the play.

 He tells the audience he has suffered from insomnia since the age of five and “the shortage of sleep has made me, you could say, edgier, than most people.  And angry. And so, I’m the fractured and angry and edgy black visual artist.”

Ralph and he “love” each other, and Ralph has gifted Leo with a white-noise machine.  Leo used the device for a year and it helped. But the white noise clouded his brain and he could not paint.

For that reason, he jettisoned the apparatus. Yet the sound of white noise remains embedded in his brain, stressing and exhausting him.

When Leo can’t sleep, he walks. On the previous night, he walked to the white neighborhood he’d love to live in someday and was accosted by cops who smashed his face into the ground. Leo genuinely thought he was going to be shot just like he always sees happening to black men on the news.

Now he’s in really terrible shape.  He is an artist without a gallery which makes him feel like a failure. He has lost his creative inspiration. And his experience with the cops has unleashed his deepest fears about the racist world he inhabits.

Leo desperately wants to inoculate his mind against the steady accumulation of white noise from both the white noise machine and the pain and injustice a black man experiences in a racist white society.

In another part of town, buddy Ralph is facing his own crisis.

Normally, he operates the camera while Misha “acts black” on her web show.  But the normally jocular and supportive boyfriend is so upset and angry he interrupts the taping in order to vocalize his distress.

Ralph is a writer who has never published, never been loved by his father, raised poor and never has felt he was good enough.

Even though he has inherited “a robust chain of bowling alleys coast to coast” worth millions from his absentee father, he continues to feel powerless.

The one thing that was going to make him feel whole was a tenure-track promotion he was “promised” at his college day job.

But Ralph was passed over. Even worse, the position went to a candidate who writes sonnets, comes from Sri Lanka, has dark skin and identifies as black.

The “betrayal” haunts him. “A second-rate person has my job just because that second-rate person is black,” bellows the infuriated victim of reverse discrimination.

Even though Masha refuses to cut him any slack, he refuses to let up.

The four friends often go bowling after hours in their traditional hangout, an empty alley and one of the many owned by Ralph.

Clint Ramos’ extremely spare stage design has the wit to include two little dug-out channels that deliver bowling balls to the players,  Xavier Pierce’s flashing lights amplify the illusion of a bowling alley, and screens mounted around deliver the scores of the competitors.

Zoë Winters, Thomas Sadoski, Daveed Diggs and Sheria Irving

During a break, Leo proposes a “totally far-out idea that could solve everything.”

“I would like to be owned,” he tells Ralph. “Make me your property.”

In the old days, when a slave had a master and he was a good slave, he was protected by the master. Leo has a desperate need to feel safe, protected and respected, racism has exhausted him, and he has run out of options, leading him to the conclusion only his best friend’s wealth and skin color can protect him.

He is so serious he has brought along a contract. For 40 days he’ll be Ralph’s “Enslaved Person,” in exchange for the “protection” that a “Big Somebody” like Ralph can offer from “the man.”

In return, he will be paid $89,000 he will use to eliminate his credit card debt and college loans.

Leo adds that the experience will allow him to explore his heritage and his anger, and serve as a means of “showing the world how far we’ve not come.”

Initially, the women and Ralph are horrified by the idea – it is awful idea and doomed to backfire and fail - but it is hard to say no to Leo.

There also is the sense that something about the venture has an enigmatical appeal to both men. They are players and Leo has come up with a tempting brand new game.

The second half of “White Noise” dramatizes the real-life, real-time 40-day experiment.

Almost immediately (and surprisingly), Ralph becomes intoxicated with his power over Leo and the master-slave relationship allows him to act out the white resentment that turns out always to have been lurking in him.

One uncomfortable tableau follows another.

In one appalling sequence, Ralph brings Leo a slave collar and insists that he wear it. As Leo puts on the hideous and sadistic fetish device, I gasped out loud.

And I was not the only one.

The shock of the revolting image is still with me.

Ralph also cultivates a terrifying group of “new friends,” an upper-class white supremacist group that gets together to talk about how they “don’t want to be passed over or excluded or disenfranchised.”

 “We’re just a little sore. It’s kind of a big sore, actually. Festering,” explains Ralph.

Misha and Dawn are compelled to come to grips with the truth about their respective backgrounds.

In her monologue, Misha explains she is the daughter of two fiercely loving, academically high-pressure “very black” mothers and was raised by the lesbian professors in a mostly-white college town.  Her upbringing has left her with a perpetually exhausting black identity crisis, oscillating between the way she was raised and the elf-created street” character she plays on “Ask a Black.”

Dawn’s monologue deals with how she was raised to devote her life to social justice, and how she has compromised herself by successfully defending a young black man she knew was guilty because of her own white-savior complex.

As “White Noise” hurtles toward its conclusion, it comes down to two men, master and slave, alone in a bowling alley and seemingly destined to destroy each other.

But it’s a standoff. The affection between them? Over. Their seemingly happy history? Erased.

Racism and power relations have taken care of that.

But in a burst of irony, Leo starts drawing again. Misha’s show takes off. Dawn ends up with a better job. Ralph gets published in The New Yorker.

I have listened and I was left wondering whether there is a master-slave relationship buried in each of us and what exactly do we wrap ourselves in order to keep from hearing the lies that we live by?

“White Noise” is a provocative play.

Thomas Sadoski, Daveed Diggs, Zoë Winters, and Sheria Irving