Thoughts & Musings

Enron: Gods and Kings of Wall Street

Enron is a smashing piece of theater.

by Joe Seigel, MOTIF Magazine
  • 16th October 201416/10/14
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2nd Story Theatre is presenting Enron, a wickedly funny satire of corporate greed and deception. It is also one of the year’s best shows.

In late 2001, Houston energy company Enron went out of business. At the time, it was the largest corporate bankruptcy in history. Enron’s founder was Ken Lay (Tom Roberts), who left the running of the company to CEO Jeff Skilling (Ed Shea), who used shady accounting practices to disguise the company’s massive debt from failed deals and projects. Chief Financial Officer Andy Fastow (Ara Boghigian) also played a key role in deceiving the company’s investors, employees and the public. Skilling has a rivalry with fellow executive Claudia Roe (Tanya Anderson) who has her own ideas of how to keep Enron a profitable company. The cast of characters in this cutthroat corporate universe includes lawyers, financial analysts and reporters, and traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The standout performer here is Shea, who is always mesmerizing as Skilling, a power-hungry and extremely cynical man who outlines his schemes with maniacal zeal.

Director Trevor Elliott has come up with some truly imaginative staging. The set featured an elevated platform where Lay delivers speeches to his executives. There is also an impressive high-tech recreation of the stock exchange, featuring strobe lights and a digital ticker of the stocks being traded. In one surreal set piece, Fastow is aided by non-human creatures in his devious chicanery.

The play also serves as a time machine, using archival footage of former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, an Enron promotional video to establish the decadence of the country at the end of the 20th century, and President Bill Clinton’s infamous denial of sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.

The fall of Enron and other massive corporations was the end product of a business culture that ran amok in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Executives who were desperate to cover up their own failures resorted to shady accounting practices to mislead investors. Playwright Lucy Prebble has skillfully recreated the world of Enron, a place that boasted of having some of the brightest college graduates in its ranks.

Skilling and Fastow really believed they could do no wrong, even though their actions resulted in the loss of billions of dollars and the destruction of thousands of lives. Lay didn’t realize what was going on under his nose because he was too preoccupied with playing golf games with his buddy George W. Bush. It was a tragedy on a massive scale. Just a few years after Enron’s bankruptcy, the collapse of several Wall Street investment banks devastated the American economy and caused hardship to millions of Americans. Prebble’s script gives insight into how these types of atrocities were not only allowed to occur, but how the elements exist for them to continue for years to come.

Enron is a smashing piece of theater.

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