Sunday, June 6, 2010
The Shubert organization and (twenty-five producers !!!) present The Headlong Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre and Royal Court Theatre Production of ENRON by Lucy Prebble at the BROADHURST THEATRE, Broadway.
ENRON by 30 year old English writer, Lucy Prebble, traces the trajectory of that company, "Enron from its heady early days with Kenneth L. Lay as its avuncular founder to its rise with Jeffrey K. Skilling as a seductive division head who eventually became chief executive, to its demise when various schemes by the chief financial officer, Andrew S. Farstow, and others to disguise the company's massive debts unraveled." .
From the epilogue to the play first performed in July 2009, almost a year after the Global financial Crisis of September, 2008, (dealt with in the David Hare play THE POWER OF YES presented in London in September,2009 and at Belvoir Company B last month):
BOARD: When Enron was declared bankrupt,it was over thirty billion dollars in debt.
SECURITY OFFICER: Days before employees were told to leave,the latest round of bonus cheques was handed out to Enron executives, more than fifty-million dollars.
EMPLOYEE: That week, twenty thousand employees lost their jobs.
SENATOR: The financial practises pioneered at Enron are now widespread throughout the business world.
BUSINESS ANALYST: Over the last year and a half, the US Government has pumped ten trillion dollars into the financial system to try and keep it from collapse.
SLOMAN: Counting that amount at a dollar a second would take more than three hundred and twenty thousand years.
The collapse of Enron ought to have rung warning signals to the financial world and the 'general' big world of government, but as reported in the exhaustive book TOO BIG TO FALL by Andrew Ross Sorkin (Allen Lane, 2009) it was more comfortable and necessary for the Wall Street 'warriors' and perhaps government to ignore it. Catastrophically, as David Hare's later work indicates the financial 'wizards' stayed at it and are still at it. This play's timeliness was recognised in London, but my impression sitting in the Broadhurst Theatre in New York was that the US public, as represented by my fellow audience, is still in a bewildered state of incredulity and disbelief that such perfidy is endemic to one of the pillars of their culture.
This is the same production team as in London but with an American cast. Rupert Goold, whose work we saw at the Sydney festival, SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR, is in directorial charge. (In better charge than the work at the Seymour centre last January, I must remark?!!!) And in finding that the world of the stock market is as imaginative in its use of metaphor as the theatre: "The notion of a company collapsing is a metaphor, obviously a company doesn't literally collapse." says Ms Prebble, she has creatively found a way to tell her story without being boring: colour and noise and jokes and musical numbers, choreography and all! The appearance of "raptors" in business suits one of the joyfully delightful creations in an otherwise hair raising revelatory examination of the world we 'bank' on.
Mr Goold is her inventive partner in crime. In an article by Helen Shaw in the TIME OUT NEW YORK magazine (issue 758) he says that Enron has "some sense of Neil Labute's IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, some Kevin Smith and some nods to Tarantino." He layers such influences under the play's dominant visual theme: the freak show. In the circus-like atmosphere of the energy bubble, Lehmann Brothers pops up as a Siamese-twin act, rubber-stamping accounting firm Arthur Andersen yammers as a ventriloquist's dummy, and the titular company never stops moving." When Lucy Prebble's stage direction commands "Party like its 1999", Goold gives us heady, funky choreographed numbers (Scott Ambler) with lightsabers and laser lighting effects (Mark Henderson).
The ploys and politics of the business of Enron are entertainingly revealed and it is both fascinating and repulsive. Norbert Leo Butz playing Jeffery Skilling is magnificent in an extremely dynamically taxing role from fat man to unrepentant professional "killer" slammed behind bars - this is a classic tragedy. He is ably supported by Stephen Kunken as Fastow, Marin Mazzie as Claudia Roe, his sexy and canny rival for power, and Gregory Lizin as Kenneth Lay. All of the company of actors in a cast of seventeen actors are engaged busily in the telling of this tale. Not all of them, on the night I saw it, still in preview, comfortable with the lightning changes in tone, style and directorial strategies required of them.
The set and costume design by Anthony Ward, clever and pragmatic, supported by a very busy video and projection design by Jon Driscoll. Lighting by Mark Henderson.
Mr Butz as Skilling opens the play with this prescient speech:
"Enron Online will change the market. It is creating an open, transparent marketplace that replaces the dark, blind system that existed. It is real simple. If you want to do business, you push the button. We're trying to change the world."
At the end of this woe filled play, after he has been sentenced to twenty-four years and four months in prison for his corporate crimes he says directly to us:
"I'm not a bad man. I'm not an unusual man. I just wanted to change the world." In court he has said, "Took advantage of regulations?....That's what we do. In business, you buy something at one price, you sell it at a higher one and what's in between, that's your advantage. Which you TAKE. That's how the world WORKS. If you want an objective morality present in every contract, you're living in a dream… So when you ask, 'Did we take ADVANTAGE of that?'... you know what I hear? I hear, 'Do you make a living, do you breathe in and out, are you a man? 'And I know that the only difference between me and the people judging me is they weren't smart enough to do what we did." He has the last line of the play, looking back at all that has happened he simply says: "All humanity is here. There's Greed, there's Fear, Joy, Faith , Hope… And the greatest of these ...is money."
This was the best new play I saw in New York, on this visit. It is a confronting and intense experience and I can imagine for some of the New York audience, as it was for me, a very saddening and infuriating one. Ms Prebble and Mr Goold have produced a bitter pill with a sugar coating that has us entertained while learning, and laughing ...right up until we get home or our hotel and turn on the television news.
I hope a Sydney audience gets to see it.
1. Alastair Gee, "DRAMA! MUSIC! FINANCIAL SHENANIGANS!", New York Times , February 17th 2010.
2.Helen Shaw "ENRON'S STOCK IS UP AGAIN...ON BROADWAY", TIME OUT NEW YORK. ISSUE 758.
3. Andrew Ross Sorkin, "TOO BIG TO FALL", Allen Lane, 2009.
4. Lucy Prebble "ENRON", Methuen drama, 2009.