SALT LAKE CITY — “The Lehman Trilogy” at Pioneer Theatre Company is unlike anything I’ve seen — from both a subject and stylistic perspective.

The subject is the 164-year history of the Lehman Brothers, which grew from a family business trading cotton in Alabama to a global financial juggernaut. The style is a surprisingly breezy feeling three-hour-and-ten-minute saga, adapted by Ben Power from an Italian play by Stefano Massini. The play is written as a narrative poem in blank verse, with great care given to each word — and like Shakespeare, not one is wasted.

“Lehman” features three actors who play dozens of roles. Instead of changing costumes, the actors simply switch from character to character instantly. One moment, an actor is speaking a German-Yiddish dialect as a Lehman brother, the next he responds to himself in a Southern accent as an American factory owner.

All three actors are professionals from New York with PTC experience. The eldest, Henry, is played by Jeff Talbott, last seen in “Oslo.” William Cornell plays Emanuel Lehman, the middle and most sensible brother — and was in PTC’s “The Play that Goes Wrong,” which was among the funniest things I’ve ever seen onstage. Rounding out the trio was Seth Andrew Bridges as the younger, overlooked Mayer Lehman, who comes into his own with his unique people skills.

William Connell (left) as Emanuel Lehman, Jeff Talbott (middle) as Henry Lehman, and Seth Andrew Bridges (right) as Mayer Lehman in Pioneer Theatre Company’s “The Lehman Trilogy”. (Photo by BW Productions.)

While each actor begins as a single Lehman brother, they transform into sons, wives and other characters as the play — and the world of finance — progresses. Their family dynasty survives cataclysms like the Civil War and Great Depression before unraveling and collapsing in 2008. The choices leading up to the Great Recession are not given much attention since by that point there were no Lehmans at the firm, and this is primarily a family saga — but the shifting tides and crumbling foundation are briefly sketched out.

The production was directed by Karen Azenberg using minimal props and set changes (done by the actors themselves). These choices brought performances to the forefront and allowed the audience to experience the power of the characters’ humanity. Interplay between the actors was seamless, with the three playing off each other excellently. It’s a pleasure to see actors of such high caliber.

At one point, a character describes the New York Stock Exchange as a “temple of words” — a phrase that could describe “The Lehman Trilogy” itself. The play is obsessed with words. They simply never stop. Words cascade as characters describe their thoughts, motivations and various physical appearances.

Seth Andrew Bridges (left) as Mayer Lehman, William Connell (middle) as Emanuel Lehman, and Jeff Talbott (right) as Henry Lehman in Pioneer Theatre Company’s “The Lehman Trilogy”. (Photo by BW Productions.)

Phrases are one of the play’s many repeated motifs. These include cheeks shaped like melons, heads shaped like the Moon (both probably more poetic in Italian), a door handle that sticks, and most poignantly, mourning. Great attention is given to how Jewish custom and the ever-increasing speed of modern life affected the mourning period. Eventually, three minutes is all that can be afforded to mourn. Dreams are given special emphasis as well, which perhaps strains credibility in a play that otherwise feels like a straightforward retelling of facts.

“Lehman Trilogy” is the first production in the Meldrum Theatre at the Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse, a renovated building where a theater now stands in place of a basketball court. Rows are wide and seats are spacious and comfortable. The decor stark yet classy. The director’s note calls the space “intimate” three times, and it certainly is. The thrust stage puts the audience within spitting distance of the actors — in fact, row 1 should come with a splash warning because the spit was flying during this performance!

Rumbling from an adjacent light rail transit line was heard about every 15 minutes during the performance. The experience was like sitting in a movie and occasionally hearing an action film in a neighboring auditorium. I overheard several patrons comment upon leaving the venue that they found this distracting. It is unfortunate that performances in this beautiful, new facility may be handicapped by passing trains. While not as bad the as planes which buzz The Globe in London, it did make me feel bad for the theater, which is otherwise absolutely fabulous.

The fetching scenic design by Yoon Bae was highlighted by an enormous shelf of ledgers spontaneously taking flight to create a proscenium arch. The stage is backed by a large screen illuminated by lights which added emotional underpinning to scenes. Michael Gilliam’s lighting design generally lit the actors well, although the yellow light suddenly plastering Henry when he came down with yellow fever felt a bit over the top.

Jeff Talbott (left) as Henry Lehman, Seth Andrew Bridges (middle) as Mayer Lehman, and William Connell (right) as Emanuel Lehman in Pioneer Theatre Company’s “The Lehman Trilogy”. (Photo by BW Productions.)

The sound system features high-quality microphones, music and sound effects (sound design was by Bryce Robinette). While actors didn’t have to compete with the sparse music played during scene changes, the mix was good, although there were a few too many late mikes for a professional show — four by my count.

The play is generally appropriate for all audiences, and equivalent to a PG-13 rating with a couple strong swears and descriptions of suicides. Although the show will be thrilling for any inquisitive adults, the subject matter and wordy presentation would likely drive anyone under 18 batty. So parents, do your kids a favor and get a babysitter.

In 2022, “The Lehman Trilogy” hauled in five Tonys including best play. With its unique presentation and delivery, fascinating subject matter, captivating source material and excellent performances, Pioneer Theatre Company’s production is a superb rendition of a celebrated new work. No thinking adult should feel put off by its financial theme, length or poetic style — this is an entertaining and broadly appealing regional premiere and strongly recommended for Utah audiences.

The Lehman Trilogy plays Mondays – Thursday at 7:00 PM, Friday & Saturday at 7:30 PM, and Saturdays at 2:00 PM through April 13 at the Meldrum Theatre at the University of Utah (375 1400 East Salt Lake City). Tickets are $42-$53. For more information, visit

These reviews are made possible by a grant from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks program.