Three Bone Theatre is Breaking the Bank
Three Bone Theatre opens its new season with a blockbuster
The Lehman Trilogy runs Nov. 3-18
The fact that The Lehman Trilogy is set to open in Charlotte next week seems as inevitable as it is surprising.
Surprising because the 2022 Tony Award Best Play winner has only played in a couple of cities. It was on Broadway for a hot second before COVID shut down Broadway and the rest of the world. It’s been in London’s West End and is now in Sydney, Australia and San Francisco.
And inevitable because it’s, at least in part, a story of banking and American capitalism – topics of great interest to a large swath of the Queen City.Three Bone Theatre (and Charlotte audiences) hit the jackpot when the company got the rights to the play. Three Bone was to have been only the second company to produce it, but company co-founder and artistic director Robin Tynes-Miller said, “A Chicago company snuck in right before us.”
“I’m particularly interested to do it in Charlotte, because Charlotte is a banking city,” said David Winitsky, founder and executive artistic director of the Jewish Plays Project, who’s been brought in from New York to direct.
Becca Worthington, Kevin Shimko Scott Tynes-Miller on rehearsal at the Arts Factory at West End Studios
Courtesy of Three Bone Theatre
The rise and fall
The Lehman Trilogy is a story about high finance, but it’s also the story of America as seen through the eyes of one wildly successful (German) immigrant family.
It traces the history of Lehman Brothers investment bank from its roots as a – who knew? – dry-goods store in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1840s through 1969, when the last member of the family still involved in the business passed away. (That was Robert Lehman, a founder’s grandson.)
But the action doesn’t end in 1969. It keeps going, right up through the era of Dick Fuld, the CEO who presided over the firm during its final years – 1994 to 2008. He allowed Lehman Brothers to deal in subpar securities, which led to the banking behemoth’s downfall and the largest financial crisis in history.
The play shows audiences the humble beginnings, outrageous success and crushing collapse of a legendary financial institution.
If you’re thinking three-and-a-half hours doesn’t exactly sound “condensed,” don’t panic. There are two intermissions – and audiences must leave their seats during both.
When I asked Winitsky how the stage would be configured, all he would say is, “Some interesting changes will happen … at each intermission, the entire audience needs to leave the theater, and … come back to something [new].”
A ‘marathon’ and a ‘poem’
Three-and-a-half hours is a long sit, but consider what that same amount of time feels like to the actors who’ve had to memorize three-and-a-half hours of dialogue.
Generally, epics have a cast of thousands. This one has a cast of three. Kevin Shimko, Becca Worthington and Scott Tynes-Miller each play dozens of characters. Each is also on stage for the duration, Winitsky said.
“Each actor is carrying a full hour of text themselves,” he said. “That’s a technical challenge.”
While he calls it “a marathon,” Winitsky also said the play is brilliant enough to hold our attention: “The language of the play … is so beautiful and so propulsive that it does a lot of the work for you. It’s really a very long poem … it flows beautifully, beautifully, beautifully. The storytelling just spills out.”
Credit that poetry to playwright Stefano Massini, a novelist and playwright whose work has been translated into 27 languages. (He was inspired by Peter Chapman’s book, The Last Of The Imperious Rich: Lehman Brothers, 1844-2008.)
Because the play is being staged in a small (80-seat) theater, the actors have to do a lot of heavy lifting. The audience won’t be focused on an elaborate set. There isn’t one. They’ll be focused on the three people right in front of them.
Kevin Shimko, Scott Tynes Milller and Becca Worthington
Courtesy of Three Bone Theatre
The Lehman sister?
About those multiple characters – you might assume they’ll be wearing different costumes or using varying accents to help the audience know who’s who.
“It’s [all] on the actor and their ability to transform,” Winitsky said. “The excitement of it is watching the actors become all these different people over all these different times, without a bunch of costumes and other things. It’s just them and their performance ability.”
Winitsky said the trio of actors, who began online rehearsals in early August, is ready for the challenge.
“With a show like this, in this small theater environment and with a short rehearsal process, one of the key things you need is commitment,” he said. “And the three actors are just so on top of it and so enthusiastic and so committed.”
This production has several “firsts” associated with it. For example, it’s the first time it’s been performed in a black-box theater, Winitsky believes. But the most significant is this: Worthington is the first woman to be cast in any production of it.
Winitsky and team, including Robin Tynes-Miller, wanted the best actors they could find. They didn’t think it necessary to specify gender or any other qualifier.
“I was focused on their ability [to be] exciting performers,” Winitsky said. “And that, I think, is what we got. I [said] right from the beginning that casting a woman would be great. I know Becca a little bit from my time [in Charlotte] and was excited that she came in to audition.”
This isn’t Winitsky’s first stint in Charlotte. He’s worked with Children’s Theatre many times.
In his work with the Jewish Plays Project, he’s developed over 50 plays that have been produced in New York, London, L.A., Tel Aviv and around the U.S. Adding to his pedigree is the MFA in directing he earned from Northwestern. (His undergraduate degree, in math, is from Cornell.)
I asked if he considers The Lehman Trilogy a Jewish play.
Although the Lehmans were Jewish, he doesn’t call this a Jewish play. “I think it’s an American play,” he said, “which is interesting since it was written by an Italian and adapted by a [Brit – Ben Power]. It’s very much a play about America … as seen through a Jewish lens, which is a very common thing in the American theater.”
The story of the Lehmans is relevant, because it’s also, Winitsky said, “our country’s story, and it’s complicated, and there’s some ugly stuff in there.”
In over “200 years of history of America, we have done amazing things but … in those amazing things were the seeds of a lot of pain and hurt, as well.’”
Kevin Shimko and Scott Tynes Milller
Courtesy of Three Bone Theatre
If talk of credit default swaps and clawbacks confuses you, join the club.
And take comfort. The play is less concerned with the minutiae of the 2008 financial crisis than it is with how we got there – something Winitsky said bank execs would do well to study. “I’m not quite sure our financial industry really learned a big lesson from 2008.”
He also said the play is “fun and funny” – a seemingly impossible feat, given the gravity of Lehman’s fall. But it makes sense. Shimko, co-founder and artistic director of Comedy Arts Theater of Charlotte (CATCh), is largely known for his comedy and improv.
Is this a cautionary tale?
Winitsky said it shows us that within the American drive to succeed – sometimes at all costs – and within the “seizing of opportunity [are] the seeds of destruction. I think that is the cautionary part of it.
“And I hope, as Americans, we look at it and go: Given the scope and scale of what happened in 2008 – and what it could’ve done to our country and to the world – I think we got off pretty light. We could have seen the crumbling of a nation.
“I had hoped – and I’m not sure whether it’s true or not – that people will [see the play] and go: ‘Hey, we should really be thinking more about the level of risk involved in driving a ship this big.’
“I don’t want to say nobody is thinking about that. But I think one of the things that art does – and I’ll be Shakespearean for a second – is hold that mirror up and say: ‘Look at what you’re doing. And think about it.’”
Take it to the bank.
See The Lehman Trilogy at Three Bone Theatre (Arts Factory at West End Studios, 1545 W. Trade St. in Charlotte) from Nov. 3 – 18. Due to its adult language and depictions of anti-Semitism, it’s recommended for ages 14 and up.
Tickets range from $10 to $30 and are available here.
Have a Delightfully Ghoulish Time at The Amp
BOOllantyne is this Friday
Kick off the Halloween weekend this Friday, October 27 with a SPOOKtacular family-friendly experience at The Amp Ballantyne from 5-8:30 p.m. Charlotte Is Creative partnered with The Amp for year two of BOOllantyne, featuring:
🎃 Kid’s costume contest – Strut the “blood red” carpet
🎃 ArtSearch scavenger hunt with works of local artists
🎃 Hands-on creativity booths with The Broken Crayon, Upcycle Arts and Cultural Connections
🎃 Facepainting and caricatures from local artists
🎃 Roaming costumed characters ranging from Star Wars to Superman
🎃 Live DJs from Backspinz
🎃 Classic spooky silent films accompanied by live piano
🎃 Outdoor showing of Toy Story of Terror and Scared Shreckless
🎃 Food trucks, beer and wine
Picnic blankets and lawn chairs are welcome. Costumes are encouraged.
Tickets are $10; kids under 2 are free. Ballantyne office customers get in free with the goBallantyne app! Get your tickets online or at the door. Find parking instructions here.
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