Greed, not electricity or gas or any other driving force, was the real energy of the Enron Company before it got caught in history’s most brutal bankruptcy (up until 2001, anyway).
When the gamblers of the investment world began to sense there was no there there, it still took 18 months for the company’s stock to ratchet down from $90 per share to zilch. Imagine everybody’s surprise when it turned out that the top Enron executives already had long since sold their own stock. What a jolt for those 20,000 company employees who had been encouraged to invest their life savings in the stock!
It took years to sort out the mess. Some bosses actually went to jail. The trials are continuing. If you want the details, a high-priced lawyer can accommodate you, for a fee you probably can’t afford.
That’s what the first character onstage says, in Moxie Theatre’s production of the English tragicomedy Enron. He’s an attorney who’s polished enough not to actually lick his chops.
Lucy Prebble was a 20-year-old English college student when the Enron bubble burst but she knew a representative parable when she saw one. And her play is indeed an illumination of well-greased greed in action.
Ken Lay was the Enron boss, a specialist in cultivating top politician and convincing the world that his stock was headed for unprecedented value. He hired Jeffrey Skilling to make it so by using “mark to market” merchandising, a technique to assuming that future profits should already count as earnings. Skilling in turn hired Andy Fastow, a numbers nerd, to hide any fluctuations in the actual earnings.
In Jennifer Eve Thorn’s slick, quickstep production for Moxie, Mark C. Petrich plays Ken Lay right on the edge of caricature, a cagey pasha with an eye always on the exit. Max Macke as Skilling is an earnest pitchman, doggedly wrestling with his nerves, and Eddie Yaroch makes Fastow a barely presentable mad-scientist type.
None of them would do for an MBA training film, but they’re quite plausible enough in a play where the Enron board of directors is represented by three blind mice and the money-mechanic uses loveable pet raptor dinosaurs to absorb deficit. (Irresistible masks by Emily Smith.)
Yes, it’s that sort of manic atmosphere, with stock-traders choreographed into implacability (by Javier Velasco) and the Lehman Brothers (of banking fame) portrayed as Siamese twins in Teutonic lockstep. Thorne shapes a seven-member ensemble into a horrifying tango of rapacity.
Tim Nottage’s antiseptic scenery, lit clinically or riotously as needed by Christopher Renda, and Jennifer Brawn Gittings’ tightwound period costumes help an atmosphere that could have used ten times the budget and much more of the busy little institutional tweedling in Matt Lescault-Wood’s soundtrack.
The one character poised between the architects of avarice and the ensemble is a female player, represented with juicy swagger by Lisel Gorell-Goetz, whose name doesn’t turn up in the official story. (Not in Wikipedia, at least.) She’s as much a shark as any of them but she also brings a taste of humanity amidst the hustle.
The showdown gets as nasty as might be expected, with careers crashing into oblivion and victims whimpering. The lights go out on Skilling still peddling the pills.
Hats off to the author and the director for such an entertaining yet informative tour inside the Ponzi scheme. As a cautionary tale, though, it’s inevitably too little and too late. The Lehman Brothers themselves set the new record for bankruptcy total in 2008.
And a New York Times piece this week reports that sales of company jet aircraft, preferred travel mode of the Enron-type millionaires in the top 1 percent of wealth, are languishing while the really big airplanes, the ones that can seat 400 regular passengers, are being snapped up… by the top .01 percent. The people who probably chuckle at the crude scams of Enron.
Continuing at Moxie Theatre Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Dec. 7, 2014, except Thanksgiving Day.