Reviewed by Bob Verini
The Production Company at The Lex Theatre
Through June 28
Most people’s command of international finance and investment, I think it’s fair to say, probably cuts not much deeper than the “Money makes the world go around” lyrics from Cabaret. Yet in telling the sorry true-life saga of the titular Houston energy giant and its catastrophic demise, Lucy Prebble’s Enron coolly takes for granted our ability to take in, not just the gist of what went down in October 2001, but its intricate details as well. Even if director August Viverito’s production weren’t as solid as it is – and despite some awkwardnesses partially attributable to opening night, it’s one of the most interesting entertainments of the year so far – Enron would be welcome for its confidence in proffering a grownup experience to a grownup audience.
An award-winner in its native UK (though an unaccountable Broadway flop in 2010), Enron is also admirable for its unfailing attention to the people behind the legendary scandal. It’s always tempting to poke fun at corporate greedheads, and this saga is teeming with them, especially those of the Texas variety: they of the long drawls, endlessly wrapping up their cynicism in religion and patriotism. Enron takes many a shot at these perps, some cheap, others well-aimed, much of its ammo directed at the sideliners (auditors, lawyers, pundits) who might’ve seen the bubble ready to burst but turned a blind eye.
For all its satire, however, the play remains keenly psychologically aware of, and even (gasp!) sympathetic to, those whose dicey machinations wiped out thousands of employees’ and shareholders’ savings and pensions within a couple of months. Prebble implies that “the smartest guys in the room,” as the company’s big thinkers were known, couldn’t stop themselves from applying all that cleverness to shoot for the big scores that would satisfy their needs: this one’s shaky marriage, that one’s accelerated sex drive, another’s Napoleon complex. Outrage about “the system” is commonplace, but shouting about it is the activist’s realm. The artist’s job, by contrast, is to remind us that even the worst of systems is founded and maintained by fallible, delicate human beings, and to suggest that even the worst of them aren’t so different from the rest of us. Prebble lives up to her part of the compact. Do not be surprised if, as the energy giant’s house of cards begins to collapse, you start to ache for those responsible. A little.
Among Viverito’s actors, best is the remarkable Skip Pipo as Enron CEO Jeffrey Skelling, a subtly persuasive portrait of a nebbish who became a Nero but couldn’t sustain the illusion. A large ensemble conveys the nerviness and thrills of the trading floor, punctuated by a video screen, music and sound effects that often threaten to overwhelm the proceedings in an imbalance I daresay will be attended to in the run’s early weeks. Over that time, I hope Viverito gives some extra attention to his company’s exits and entrances, which tend to be lead-footed and inexpressive: People stride to their place mechanically and only then do they start to act. The vibe of the Enron Corp. was slick and smooth, ideas popping up and just as quickly disappearing; Viverito’s physical patterns would do well to pick up on that.
Even if its action is a tad too big for the room, this demanding, rewarding Enron proves difficult to shake off.
The Production Company at The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 28. (800) 838-3006, www.theprodco.com.