Second Opinion Review: ENRON at Hole in the Wall Theater

Tara Kennedy

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?

Wrong!

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. 

Review: 'Enron' at Hole in the Wall Theater

Anthony J. Piccione

Looking back on the 1990s, many people tend to remember it as a time of technological innovation and relative prosperity. In recent years, some people have even begun referring to it as “the last great decade”. However, this view of the 90s overlooks one of the less positive – as well as one of the most consequential – events to have occurred in this decade: the financial scandal at Enron that proved to be one of the most controversial financial scandals in American history, and ultimately led to the company’s downfall in the early 2000s. In 2009, playwright Lucy Prebble took it upon herself to bring this story to the stage in what may be one of the boldest and most underrated plays of the past decade. Luckily, Connecticut theatergoers now have an opportunity to see this play for themselves.

This weekend marks the Connecticut premiere of this powerful political drama, as Hole in the Wall Theater opens its production of the show this weekend as the finale to its 2014-2015 season. The show is directed by Emily Trudeau(2015 OnStage Critics Award for Best Actress), whose vision and passion for the play shines clearly from the beginning to end of the production. In terms of casting, blocking, visuals and sound effects, this production does an excellent job at retelling the shady events of just a few years ago that occurred at this company. The various elements of the production are put to great use, as they provide both a nice dose of nostalgia for the past, as well as sobering moments that serve as a cautionary tale for those in similar situations today in America. No production could possibly do a better job at using these elements to bring a play such as this to life than this one.

From L to R - Delaney Wilbur, Nathan Rumney, Ryan Wantroba and Johnson Flucker in ENRON at Hole in the Wall Theater - July 2015

From L to R - Delaney Wilbur, Nathan Rumney, Ryan Wantroba and Johnson Flucker in ENRON at Hole in the Wall Theater - July 2015

The usage of various technical elements in this show proves to be quite impressive, especially given the heavy amount of tech that a show such as this demands. The sets – built to look like an Enron building and office – are very well-designed, and help make the show more visually impressive. The costumes of the characters are another impressive feature, with some helping to make people look exactly like the real-life people that they portray and others – notably the dinosaur masks used later in the show – helping to add an amusing bit of comic relief to an otherwise serious political drama. Perhaps the most notable technical highlight in the show is the excellent usage of video projections, which are used to set the tone and atmosphere for the production with not just old clips of news reports and Enron commercials, but also to invoke memories of notable historical and cultural events from the time period in which the play takes place. These include – but are not limited to – the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the controversial election of George W. Bush in 2000, and even a trio of women doing the Macarena. (For all the kids out there reading this, the Macarena was pretty much the Harlem Shake/Gangnam Style of the 90s.) All in all, the technical aspects of the show do a very fine job at taking the audience back to the 90s and into the dark depths of the corporate world in which the play takes place.

Of course, the most noteworthy aspect of this production is the cast that brings the show to life. The show features over a dozen talented local actors who bring to life many of the central individuals involved in the Enron scandal. In the lead role is Johnson Flucker, who portrays the corrupt CEO Jeff Skilling. Mr. Flucker turns in an excellent performance that brilliantly shows Skilling to be both the greedy crook and the highly-complicated human being that he is. Portraying the role of Andy Fastow is Nathan Rumney, whose performance proves to be both highly compelling and villainous. Jim Byrne Jr. does a splendid job portraying the role of Ken Lay, while Rebecca Meakin turns in a solid performance as Jeff’s favorite co-worker Claudia Rowe. Rounding out the rest of the cast is Mary Roane, Ryan Thomas, Ryan Wantroba, Stephanie Chernoff, Steve Azzaro, Luca Gianelli, Enrico DelGiacomo, Myla Gianelli, Christina Gianelli, Neve Stanziale, Paul Keuhn, Doug McCarthy, Charlie Williams & Delaney Wilbur.Rebecca Meakin, Mary Roane, Ryan Thomas, Ryan Wantroba, Johnson Flucker, Nathan Rumney, Jim Byrne , Stephanie Chernoff, Steve Azzaro, Luca Gianelli, Enrico DelGiacomo, Myla Gianelli, Christina Gianelli, Neve Stanziale, Paul Keuhn, Doug McCarthy, Charlie Williams & Delaney WilburRebecca Meakin, Mary Roane, Ryan Thomas, Ryan Wantroba, Johnson Flucker, Nathan Rumney, Jim Byrne , Stephanie Chernoff, Steve Azzaro, Luca Gianelli, Enrico DelGiacomo, Myla Gianelli, Christina Gianelli, Neve Stanziale, Paul Keuhn, Doug McCarthy, Charlie Williams & Delaney WilburRebecca Meakin, Mary Roane, Ryan Thomas, Ryan Wantroba, Johnson Flucker, Nathan Rumney, Jim Byrne , Stephanie Chernoff, Steve Azzaro, Luca Gianelli, Enrico DelGiacomo, Myla Gianelli, Christina Gianelli, Neve Stanziale, Paul Keuhn, Doug McCarthy, Charlie Williams & Delaney Wilbur. 

Kristen Bennett, Ryan Thomas, Michael Vernon Davis and Ryan Wantroba in ENRON at Hole in the Wall Theater - July 2015

Kristen Bennett, Ryan Thomas, Michael Vernon Davis and Ryan Wantroba in ENRON at Hole in the Wall Theater - July 2015

Overall, this production proves to be emotionally powerful, intellectually stimulating and one of the boldest productions that I’ve seen from a community theatre group here in Connecticut. Certainly worth watching for anyone who enjoys a rare drama that is not only entertaining, but also tackles major political and economic issues that are still relevant today in 2015. The show has a wonderful cast and a great story to tell, and is highly recommended for anyone who loves great, thought-provoking theatre that leaves you talking after the show ends.

Enron runs at Hole in the Wall Theater from July 17th to August 8th. For more information, please visit www.hitw.org.