Thoughts & Musings

Review – 2nd Story’s Enron

The sizzling production now at 2nd Story Theatre is especially vivid.

By Kathie Raleigh
  • 16th October 201416/10/14
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Well into Lucy Prebble’s play “Enron,” the actor playing the Texas energy company’s CEO, Jeffrey Skilling, stops to do some math.

If he were to count out $1million at the rate of a dollar every second, round the clock, without stopping, it would take more than 11 days. If he were counting to $1billion, it would take nearly 32 years.

When numbers get really big, they lose meaning. Comparisons like this, however, give it back, and in the case of the Enron scandal are a measure of just how egregious were its perpetrators: Skilling, CFO Andy Fastow and company founder Kenneth Lay.

Passing time and new scandals since then, like the mortgage and banking crisis, also make the company’s crimes lose meaning, but this British playwright’s work brings it all back, and the sizzling production now at 2nd Story Theatre is especially vivid.

Trevor Elliott, who usually blows us away with his captivating sets, does it again this time with a stark stage that morphs into different settings. He also designed the very effective lighting – and he directed, getting the moods, the arrogance, the desperation and even the whimsy exactly right.

Yes, whimsy is part of the production.

If you think a play about accounting practices can’t be possibly interesting, check out this show. Prebble clearly and concisely tells the story of the rise of Enron, once deemed “America’s Most Innovative Company,” to its collapse in 2001, leaving disastrous and widespread loss of jobs and pensions in its wake. She makes understandable Skilling’s and Fastow’s “creative” accounting methods, which made a company that produced nothing look profitable.

While the events and the characters are based in reality, there are flights of fancy that make us laugh even as we get angry with these criminals in their tailored suits. Among Enron’s unethical accounting practices was the creation of shadow companies to hide overwhelming debt.

Fastow and Skilling referred to these non-existent companies by the names of the raptors in “Jurassic Park,” and therefore, they are represented on stage by raptors, with big, ugly heads and shining eyes. Arthur Andersen, the once respected accounting firm that was ruined by its affiliation with Enron, gets similarly disparaging metaphorical treatment, as do the stock analysts who buy into Enron’s dishonest profitability reports and become, in a literal sense in this play, cheerleaders for the company.

This production also makes good use of video, from news clips to one all-video character, plus some well chosen music including, hilariously and appropriately, the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

The main characters – Skilling, Fastow and Lay – have the hubris of characters in a Shakespearean tragedy, except we never have any sympathy for, or psychological insight on, these guys. Motivation and depth of feeling are for another play.

2nd Story’s actors, however, embrace their roles for what they are and deliver fascinating performances. Artistic director Ed Shea is a chilling Skilling, a walking moral vacuum whose only second thoughts about what he’s doing arise when he realizes he’s going down; then Shea’s portrayal of desperation is palpable.

Ara Boghigian is wonderfully demonstrative as Fastow, banished to the finance department because he is not a “people person,” who ingratiates himself with Skilling with his clever accounting methods. In contrast, Tom Roberts plays Ken Lay with restraint and nails that smiling but ruthless demeanor of the boss interested only in the bottom line.

Tanya Anderson is fine as the fictional Claudia Roe, an ambitious woman using all means available to get to the top, but falling short when she won’t embrace her colleagues’ shell games. Several more actors play multiple roles, from the raptors to the cheerleading stock analysts.

“Enron” doesn’t have the ambiguity or mixed emotions of more literary works, but it is a sort of modern morality play about folks motivated by greed. At 2nd Story, it’s a tale told in an engaging, colorful and thoroughly entertaining way.

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