In 1856, brothers Emmanuel and Meyer Lehmann were trading with four cotton plantations in Alabama in the southern United States. Jewish immigrants from Bavaria in Germany sell raw cotton to “those who turn dust”. When Meyer explains this to his father-in-law Isaac Neugas in the play Lyman Trilogydoes it look like this:
Newgass: “What are you selling?”
Mayer: “We sell cotton, Mr. Newgas.”
Newgass: “Isn’t that a twill?”
Meyer: “If we sell it…not yet.”
Neogas: If it wasn’t dust who would buy it from you?
Meyer: Someone who turns it to dust. We’re in the middle, you see. We are exactly in the middle.
Newgass: “What kind of profession is this, sitting in between?”
Meyer: “A profession that does not yet exist, Mr. Newgas: we have started it.”
In a few years, the number of farms the Lehmann brothers deal with has increased from 4 to 24. Profits go to “brokers” Mayer and Emmanuel Lehmann. “No one lives in a profession that doesn’t exist,” Newgas wonders. In any case.
“The river of money that always flows”
Lyman Trilogy Like an immigrant fairy tale, leaves with a gilded American dream. This discovery, this new career, opens the doors to “a river of money that always flows.” The family soon expanded their trade from coffee, coal, and grain to railroads, oil, weapons, and Hollywood. At the end of the 19th century, financial services replaced commerce. “Our raw material is money,” says Philip Lehmann, son of Emmanuel, in the piece.
This is the movement in Lyman TrilogySimultaneously with the development of capitalism: increasingly abstract, increasingly imaginative, increasingly profitable. From things to commodities to circulation of money and then fictitious money; Credit, stocks and junk mortgages. We know how that ended, in 2008, with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, which led to the outbreak of the global banking crisis. The river of money has dried up at the expense of the millions of Americans who have lost their savings, mortgages, jobs, homes, and hopes.
From 1844 to 2008
A decade later, the Lehmann brothers have hits in the West End and Broadway, and from this weekend they can be seen in Amsterdam. in Lyman Trilogy (2013) Italian writer Stefano Masini examines the way capitalism operates and the mechanisms that lead to excess and moral decay. His article is a story about losing the American dream.
Masini tells the entire history of the family, from 1844 to 2008, in a daring 177-page drama. The story consists of 29 characters; The brothers themselves, their wives, their children, their partners and their successors. After the French world premiere and successful Italian performance, transcription followed throughout Europe; The widget has been translated into 24 languages. Next, Masini was thrust into the stratosphere of the greats, when his play piqued the interest of American film and theater director Sam Mendes (Skyfall, Specter, 1917). Meanwhile, he has also adapted his own play into Thick Novel (2016).
Mendes read about the play in the obituary of theater director Melanie. Since 2008, he has been “obsessed” with the Lyman brothers and their story, as he said in 2020 variety, and was pleasantly surprised by the text of Masini. Because of the ambitious setting and the time period, but also the original style: without a distinctly dramatic form, with little dialogue and characters who often speak for themselves in the third person. Mendes called it “an epic poem.” In a comprehensive adaptation, British playwright Ben Power reduced the play from the fifth to the third. Three actors played all 29 characters, including women, rabbis, and young children.
The London West End version of Mendes won praise and awards in 2018. An American triumphal run ensued with once again rave reviews (“epic”, “overwhelming”) and a shower of awards: the production earned five Tony Awards, including Best Play and Best Director.
But this Anglo-Saxon success has in fact completely eluded Flemish director Guy Casiers. It happened in Massini’s book a few years ago in a newspaper “The Year’s Best List”. “I really liked the description: a tale about capitalism, told from the perspective of the rise and fall of one representative family.”
It was later discovered that it was originally a play that has now led a successful American presence, in an easy-to-use abbreviated version. “But unfortunately,” Cassier laughs on the phone, “we didn’t get the rights to the English version.” Masini wanted a new modification to return to the Italian original. Looking back, Cassier says, he’s happy about it. From source material (translated by Els van der Pluijm, red.We can now set our own dialects.
Cassier says the “brilliant writing” of the play offers many theatrical possibilities. ‘We start from saying; Actors on stage transform into characters and back again – in and out of the tale. This way we can be creative with the temporal distance, and playfully add our own commentary from the present. The maker and actors respect historical figures, but also view them with current knowledge.
So Cassier adds an important new accent to his show at Amsterdam’s International Theatre. For there was one crucial point on which Massini was criticized, especially in America: his piece combed too superficially along the gruesome origin of cotton that formed the basis of Lyman’s fortune: slave labor on southern cotton plantations. Cassieres: “Masini wrote his essay from the point of view of the Lehmans, and this was a blind spot for them, because throughout their history they had strategically closed their eyes to the unethical aspects of their trade.” In its direction, the on-stage tape of text complements this omission of necessary historical context. Cassieres: This isn’t a story of good people who screw up little bit. There has always been an endearing side to their fortunes.
On stage, the viewer sees – with dramatic irony – that Lehman’s capitalist dream is more and more derailed over the course of 165 years, until the bank only serves the interests of the bank. In the end, the Lehmans completely disappear from the company they started before, only the name calling remains. Even that, too, ends in 2008 with a shock.
Lyman Trilogy At the International Theater in Amsterdam. Premiere 10/10, ITA, Amsterdam; There until 12/23.
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