I know what you’re thinking. ENRON. The Play. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. What could be more boring than a play about the epic collapse of a corporate entity? Right?
Nothing encapsulates hubris and corporate greed better than the story of Enron, the infamous, defunct energy corporation based in Houston, Texas. In Lucy Prebble’s play, we learn about Enron’s innovative twist on what can be traded as a commodity in the market. We also learn about its “Russian doll” approach on keeping the company’s stock value high, which led to its inevitable collapse.
And you know what? We understand it! For the first time, I actually understood what Enron did and why people went to prison and others lost their livelihoods.
The masterminds behind this black box scheme are Enron’s president, Jeffrey Skilling (Johnson Flucker) and CFO Andy Fastow (Nathan Rumney), supported (in deliberate ignorance) by chairman of the board, Kenneth Lay (Jim Bryne, Jr.). In direct competition with this new model is vice president, Claudia Rowe (Rebecca Meakin), who still believes in creating tangible commodities like power plants, while using her feminine wiles and smarts to stay in the rat race. She is also Prebble’s own fictional concoction; a conglomerate of women who worked at high levels in the corporation.
As the director explains in her Director’s Notes in the program, this play is about people and the primary actors bring these characters to life. Nathan Rumney is wonderful as the unctuous Andy, who starts out as a somewhat hapless corporate misfit and soon rises to become the CFO Raptor Master (yep, there really are dinosaurs) behind the scenes of the Enron black box. Jim Bryne, Jr. is perfect as good-old-boy Kenneth Lay, who is happiest when he is schmoozing politicians into loosening regulations to Enron’s benefit. Rebecca Meakin played one of the most powerful women in 1990s business with confidence and finesse with a wardrobe that would’ve made Brenda Walsh jealous (thanks to costume designer, Mary Roane).
The focus of the play is on the rise and fall of Jeffrey Skilling, and Johnson Flucker portrays “the smartest man in the room” brilliantly. To depict a corporate monster as a multi-dimensional man with any sympathy takes tremendous skill and Flucker nails it. He is a zealous Edward Hermann, creating new commodities, and taking out his competition with a cool assurance and ease. One of his most chillingly callous lines is in reference to the California electricity crisis: “What’s the difference between the Titanic and the state of California? When the Titanic went down, her lights stayed on.” Yet, in his conversations with his daughter, you see his emotional vulnerability. When he answers her string of “Why?” questions (an allusion to Enron’s own commercial campaign), he tells her it is ultimately out of love for her, and you believe him. All the while, she happily blows soap bubbles toward him that quickly burst while rising into the air. Even in the end, as he dons his orange jumpsuit saying he was in prison because people failed him and didn’t believe enough, you feel sorry for him in his disillusionment.
The 12-person Ensemble in this production make up its steel backbone; without them, you wouldn’t have some of the show’s best elements of humor (the Lehman Brothers scene is hilarious) and humanity (powerful moments from Mary Roane and Ryan Wantroba who lost everything because of Enron). The entire ensemble perform complicated choreography to demonstrate everything from the Enron-induced chaos resulting from the deregulation of electricity to the systemic firing of Enron employees. They made the plot fly smoothly and deserve as much kudos as the main characters.
Technically, this show is incredibly complicated: multimedia on top of a LOT of sound and lighting cues. The movement of the plot relies on these cues to be correct. On opening night, I think I may have spotted one or two technical errors and that speaks volumes to the cohesiveness of the entire production team; that is a rare bird in community theater. Emily Trudeau’s direction should not be overlooked, as this is an ambitious show to put on at any theater. At a running time of nearly three hours, this show did not feel like it at all. The momentum of the story moved with alacrity from scene to scene effortlessly, and that is a credit to Trudeau and her hard-working team.
What is so great about this production is that it strikes a wonderful harmonious blend: a riveting lesson in the dangers of creative free market economics combined with strong performances, smart direction, and uproarious humor. It is off-the-wall, on-the-ball, not-to-be-missed theatre. Playing Friday and Saturday evenings through August 8th. Special Pay-What-You-Can Performance on July 24th.