A couple of weeks ago I pointed out a curious aspect of the rave review in the New York Times for the new smash hit play in the tradition of Hamilton as being beloved by deep-pocketed Wall Streeters: The Lehman Trilogy. Even though the first act is about the Jewish immigrant Lehman Brothers arriving in Alabama in the 1840s and starting their eponymous business buying and selling with cotton plantations, the NYT review doesn’t mention anything about … you know … slavery.
Finally, somebody who has actually seen the play mentions that. From the Washington Post opinion page:
By Richard Cohen
The hottest ticket in New York at the moment is “The Lehman Trilogy.” Its limited run is sold out, but tickets are available from brokers. They can go for as much as $1,900 a seat, which, I know, is astronomical. But, take it from me, it’s well worth almost any price — mine was a gift. It is an astounding play with only one fault: It fails to mention that Henry, Emanuel and Mayer Lehman were slave owners.
The three brothers, immigrants from Germany, established their business in Montgomery, Ala., before the Civil War. They first had something like a general store, then branched into the trading of cotton, then coffee and, eventually, pure investment banking. By then, they had relocated to New York, where the firm of Lehman Brothers became a pillar of the financial community. Mayer’s son, Herbert Lehman, became governor of the state and later a U.S. senator.
Lehman Brothers, of course, collapsed in 2008. By then, the Lehmans were gone, and the firm had passed into the hands of traders — not bankers — none of whom was a descendant of the founding brothers. The play depicts how this happens, but before the end comes a marvelous beginning — an immigrant’s tale evoking the American Dream, which the Lehmans had gilded in gold. Lehmans would go on to fund the oil industry, Pan American World Airways, the rise of television, “Gone With the Wind,” “King Kong” and, on Broadway, “A Streetcar Named Desire” featuring Marlon Brando. The Lehmans had the touch.
The immensely informative playbill for the show tells us that the play’s author, the Italian Stefano Massini, “utilized his own background in the Jewish faith” to place religion at the center of the story. …
Maybe. But what of the morality of slavery? On this, the play is silent. You may wonder as you watch what the Lehmans were thinking as they went out to Alabama’s plantations to buy cotton — how they felt about slavery — but they never say. It was only after the show, later that night, when my curiosity interfered with sleep, that the Internet disclosed that the Lehmans had owned seven slaves. This hardly made them exceptional.
What to make of this? Should the playwright have acknowledged that the Lehmans owned slaves? I think so. But I have to appreciate that a play is an effort at miniaturization, of compression — this play has only three actors — and the introduction of slavery might well have taken the play in another direction.
… “The Lehman Trilogy” has gotten rapturous reviews but usually with no mention of the hole in its moral heart.
It’s not like the Lehman Brothers were Kate Smith … Have some perspective, people! The Lehman Brothers just got rich off slavery. They didn’t go so far as to sing songs.