TIMES OF SAN DIEGO
Theater is supposed to arouse a visceral response. Well, if you want your blood to boil, your hackles to raise and your skin to crawl, do not miss “Enron.”
Moxie Theatre’s West coast premiere of the 2009 Lucy Prebble play tells the whole ghastly story, with no names changed to protect the categorically guilty.
It was the most notorious fiscal fiasco in U.S. history. Fueled by ambition, hubris and greed, the infamous conglomerate started out as a gas and oil company (“makes people think of farts and Arabs,” says Enron’s 1980s hire, Jeffrey Skilling). The firm wound up “hedging” its way into a behemoth virtual corporation that had no product, and craftily cannibalized itself to show profit and sell stock. The accounting fraud was breath-taking.
But in 2001, the house of cards finally collapsed. Enron’s bankruptcy filing (which cost 20,000 people their jobs) took down the primary perpetrators — founder and CEO Ken Lay, COO Skilling (who briefly served as CEO) and CFO Andrew Fastow — resulting in prison sentences of varying lengths. Fastow plea-bargained himself down to a 6-year sentence. Lay never even made it that far; it’s still not clear whether his death, three months before his sentencing, was due to heart failure or suicide. There are even some wacky conspiracy theorists who think he may still be alive. Fastow was released in 2011; Skilling is well into his 24-year term. He’s been fined $45 million, and is scheduled for release in 2019.
Lest you think this play is some dry history and numbers lesson, think again. British playwright Prebble, who scrutinizes from an outsider’s viewpoint, has added considerable comedy and fantasy to the mix. Life-sized Raptors become Fastow’s “pets,” signifying the firm’s shadow companies (Fastow was a big sci fi and fantasy fan). A single-vested, twin-bodied Tweedle Dee and Dum represent Lehman Brothers. There’s a bit of a potential sex scandal, too, between Skilling and Claudia Roe, a fictionalized amalgam of several female executives who began to question Skilling’s overreach.
Ultimately, in addition to power and avarice, it’s all about the disturbing paradoxes of capitalism and charisma. What’s most effective though, is that the characters, though ruthless and even demonic, are appealingly drawn and played. We might even dredge up a nanosecond of sympathy for these crooks.
Max Macke is superb as Skilling, a Harvard-educated geek who thought he was smarter than anyone else; his egotism helped him evolve from social ineptitude to bona fide showman. Macke shows the many colors of the man – from his arrogance and viciousness, to his nagging overstressed/sleep-deprived insecurity, to his playful, loving interactions with his young daughter.
Eddie Yaroch’s Fastow is totally in thrall to Skiling. A number nerd from the get-go, Fastow toiled in the bowels of Enron’s opulent Houston compound, cooking up wild ideas as he cooked the books.
As the glad-handing power-player Ken Lay, Mark Petrich seems overwhelmed by it all, the much-lauded founder who doesn’t want to know the nefarious details, even as he rubber-stamps them.
They all look uncannily like the monsters they portray.
Lisel Gorell-Getz is sexy, strong and manipulative as the sole female player, the imaginary composite Claudia, though fairly early on, she winds up getting manipulated right out of a job.
The nine sometimes singing members of the ensemble play multiple roles, from attorneys to security guards, to floor traders wielding light sabers (a bit over-the-top). They’re variable in malleability and skill, but are generally effective as support to the main events.
The play does get a tad silly at times, but director Jennifer Eve Thorn keeps it lively, active and engaging. The scenic design (Tim Nottage) is cleverly changeable, the many and varied costumes (Jennifer Brawn Gittings) are impressive, and the masks (Emily Smith) are wonderful (in addition to the Raptors, there are the Trustees, 3 Blind Mice who dutifully follow Lay around, solemnly sanctioning his every suggestion, however outlandish).
While it’s all very entertaining, it’s also infuriating, especially when we’re reminded that Enron’s business practices are now widespread in companies worldwide. Were there any lessons learned by anyone? Skilling’s got another five years of incarceration; Fastow’s out and giving college lectures on Ethics. You can decide for yourself whether anybody – or anything – has changed.
The West coast premiere of “ENRON” runs through December 7, at Moxie Theatre in Rolando (near SDSU), 6663 El Cajon Blvd.
Performances are Thursday at 7pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2:00pm (no performance on Thanksgiving)
Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.
Tickets ($25-$27) are at 858-598-7620;www.moxietheatre.com
©2014 PAT LAUNER