Thoughts & Musings

2nd Story’s Enron A Clever Look at Greed

Sharp writing, a solid cast and a special effect or two...a pretty good package.

by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
  • 14th October 201414/10/14
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If the collapse of corporate giant doesn’t sound like a recipe for compelling theater, then you should head over to 2nd Story Theatre where the greatest smoke-and-mirrors scheme of our times is taking center stage.

The corporation in question is Enron, the energy giant that crashed and burned in 2001. And playwright Lucy Prebble has managed to tell this story with crisp dialogue and a few theatrical touches, such as roving raptors a la Jurassic Park.

There are also fine showings from Ed Shea as ruthless CEO Jeffrey Skilling, the mastermind behind the scheme to create a virtual corporation worth nothing, and from Tom Roberts as clueless company founder Ken Lay, who’s fond of taking time out from looting the nation for a moment of prayer. Lay spends his time schmoozing with politicians and getting birthday cards from then-Governor W.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t able to wrap my head around all the financial trickery in “Enron,” but suffice it to say Skilling was selling empty promises, while hiding the fact that the company was broke from investors and the financial markets.

And that makes for interesting chemistry between Shea’s crooked Skilling and Tanya Anderson’s Claudia Roe, who when she wasn’t sleeping with Skilling was after his job.

But Roe was into drilling oil wells and building refineries in India, tangible things that can turn a profit, not stock options. And Anderson does a nice job giving us a glass ceiling-crashing woman, ambitious without losing her soul.

Shea, the theater’s founder who is doing more acting these days, is his usual high-revving self, but with a wonderfully nasty edge we don’t often see from him.

Also, Ara Boghigian is terrific as Andy Fastow, the company’s scheming CFO, who even taught Skilling a trick or two. It’s true he had to fight for his job because he wasn’t seen as a “people person,” but when he come into his own, it’s with the triumphant music from the film “2001″ booming in the background.

Just to keep things from becoming too focused on finance, Fastow shares his office with a bunch of menacing raptors, whose chilling masks sport glowing eyes. Fastow liked to call the ghost companies he created to buy Enron debt “raptors,” and here they come to life, emerging from dark recesses of the set to prowl about.

There are other goofy touches, too, like the blind lawyers and the obsequious Lehman Brothers showing up sharing a giant pair of pants.

The play, of course, is on one level an indictment of corporate America in general, and the greed that drives the nation. And that hits home as Enron collapses and we meet people who have lost their life’s savings along with their dreams.

If Prebble’s play has a shortcoming, it’s that we never get close enough to these characters to know what makes them tick. They seem like caricatures of Wall Street’s worst, people who don’t seem to have lives outside the office.

Resident designer Trevor Elliott not only came up with the handsome sets this time around, but the lighting, too, as well as providing the focused, energetic direction.

Of course, there are few surprises in “Enron,” no twists of plot. It’s just a matter of watching the company’s meteoric rise, then its unexpected implosion.

As the company starts to unravel, those precious stock numbers can be seen nose-diving on a screen behind Skilling, where there is also footage of Bill Clinton delivering his famous, “I did not have sex with that woman” speech, but I’m not sure I can tell you why.

All this is to say that “Enron” may not be the profoundest play around, but it’s a lot more engaging than you might think. Add to that sharp writing, a solid cast and a special effect or two, and you’ve got a pretty good package.

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