Try this just for fun: Ask the next 10 people you meet to explain the 2001 Enron scandal to you. Odds are most of them will say they’ve heard of Enron and they knew there was some scandal involving it, but that’d be it. Now try to imagine a work of theater based on the Enron scandal. That’s what British playwright Lucy Prebble did, and her resultant Enron played to audiences on both London’s West End and (for a month) on Broadway. Now Prebble’s story of greed, villainy and inter-corporate backstabbing is making its West Coast debut, at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. Jennifer Eve Thorn directs an energetic cast of 12 in a swiftly paced production that takes what is sheer documentary material and pumps it up with multimedia enhancements and characters costumed as crimson-eyed raptors and man-sized mice. The sight gags and hip-hop music and the fanciful moments where “Enron employees” break into dance provide theatricality, though it’s all rather gimmicky, like a series of Second City skits strung together.
Amid all the stage pranks are some stalwart satiric performances. Max Macke glories in the pivotal role of Enron kingpin Jeffrey Skilling, an arrogant, mercenary figure whose soul seems beyond redemption. Yet his unquestioned love for his daughter (shown asking her father innocent questions from behind a projection screen) humanizes Skilling to the point that we ALMOST feel sorry for him. The other sorta sympathetic character in Enron is the misfit Andy Fastow (Eddie Yaroch), whose brainstorm to create a “shadow company” to hide the corporate giant’s debts seduces Skilling and precipitates Enron’s downfall. Mark C. Petrich complements this threesome as the smug, oblivious Ken Lay (famously dubbed “Kenny Boy” by Dubya).
Strictly speaking, the Enron scandal was about numbers –the kind that follow dollar signs. But it’s important to remember that it was really about people – those swallowed up by greed and those who because of the greedy lost their life savings. Prebble’s Enron carries that message with conviction and has some fun along the way. Nothing wrong with that. Laughter eases some of the pain.
Now, if only Kenny Boy hadn’t croaked before serving even one day of his prison sentence.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat