note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Richard Pacheco
The season opened at 2nd Story Upstairs is British playwright Lucy Prebble’s intriguing look ant the Enron debacle of greed, arrogance, deception and corruption. The play tackles complex financial dealings with coherence, intelligence and biting humor, it can be fiercely funny at times. The acting by the large cast is superb, sharp, intelligent and vigorous, the characters deftly etched, brought vividly to life with great skill and finesse.
The Enron fiasco is well known, being the highly publicized and touted as an example of corporate greed. “Enron” premiered at the Chichester Festival Theatre (11 July – 29 August 2009), before London transfers to the Jerwood Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre from 17 September to 7 November 2009 and then the Noël Coward Theatre. It premiered on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on 8 April 2010 in previews, with the official opening on 27 April. It takes a close look at the smoke and mirrors financial practices that led to the corporation’s downfall and the tragic effects it had on so many ordinary lives duped into the false security of the company’s rise to prominence.
This tale of greed and arrogance, highlights the true culprits of the fiasco, the men and women behind it all who are so caught up with their own arrogance and smug sense of their own intelligence that they plunge ahead with reckless abandon in the face of their own personal frailties and flaws which compound the issues with greater intensities and increasing impending disasters in scope and depth. Once dubbed “America’s Most Innovative Company" for six consecutive years it tumbled clumsily and speedily downwards to bankruptcy and disaster through its creatively nefarious accounting fraud. The list of major banks involved is simply appalling and astonishing.
But this is not dry financial explanations, this is smart, savvy and sassy theater loaded with fireworks and caustic one liners. It is full of clever theatrical touches through the use of lights and costumes which make it fascinating to watch and compelling theater.
Tom Roberts is Ken Lay, the founder of Enron and its CEO. He is a man who plays politics with finesse and skill, who believes in his company and its ability to rise to the top no matter what. He is not really focused on the realities of business bur remains in his mentally cloistered world where all is perpetually well. Roberts is excellent in the role, adept at making Lay’s self absorbed clueless attitude highly believable.
Ed Shea is Jeff Skilling, President, CEO and COO of this behemoth financial disaster, steering it to its inevitable end. Skilling is ruthless, self absorbed, egotistical and overly self confident believing in his own flawless ability to come out on top no matter what, including some quirky and questionable financial bookkeeping tricks. Shea is brilliant in the role, the perfect mixture of arrogance and visible flaws. His Skilling is self-absorbed and self assured to the point of arrogance with no concern for anyone but himself and his status. It is brilliantly articulated with chilling detail and finesse, making this sleazy man ability to convince others of this intelligence and rightness in his actions.
Ara Bohigian is CFO Andy Fastow who devises the nefarious accounting scheme that brings Enron’s world tumbling down on itself. Fastow began establishing numerous limited liability special purpose entities (a common business practice in the energy sector); however, it also allowed Enron to transfer liability so that it would not appear in its accounts, allowing it to maintain a robust and generally increasing stock price and thus keeping its critical investment grade credit ratings. Bohigian is perfect in the role, bristling with enthusiasm for his clever if devious plans in accounting. Yet, he handles the transitions well when Fastow begins to realize this house of cards is beginning to crumble with disastrous effects for all concerned. Bohigian display an element of sincerity and regret when needed in a totally convincing performance that is also filled with occasional humor.
Tanya Anderson is the only female executive in the mix, Claudia Roe, (Rebecca Mark-Jusbasche) who ends up being one of the few who display any integrity and moral compass whatsoever in this morass of greed and self-centeredness. She is smart, savvy and knows how to play in a man’s world with daring and ruthless determination to match theirs. Yet she knows when to walk away as well, dignity intact before it all comes tumbling down on everyone’s head. Anderson is excellent as the smart, sexy and savvy Roe. She adroitly conveys the sense of intelligence and conviction she has at every turn.
The rest of the large cast, from lawyers to traders to the Koch Brothers and reporters fleshes this all out with skill and exuberance, never missing a beat. There is plenty to delight in here and it contuse throughout the production.
Director Trevor Elliot keens the entire thing relentlessly on track, barely allowing us to catch our breath in the audience. The pacing is fast and furious and perfectly on pitch. The set and lighting design by him is perfect and totally imaginative fitting perfectly into the production enhancing it and adding so much to it like the projected words which abound not only on the screens behind but engulf the actors on the floor and surrounding them.
Costume designer Ron Cesario shines here too, devising intelligent and clever solutions like his raptor heads and costumes for the rampant debt. The costumes add so much to it all.
You won’t want to miss this intelligent and articulate play that swarms with taut, clever humor throughout as well. If it has any flaw at all it is that the characters are for most part underdeveloped, but it seems like a necessary step with the complexity of the underlying financial issues which it makes abundantly clear and understandable throughout.