The seeds of the story were planted here in Omaha, but the roots of the Enron scandal really took hold deep in the heart of Texas. Now that story is told anew in Omaha Community Playhouse’s dynamic, colorful, compelling production of 28 year old English playwright Lucy Prebble’s imaginative, satirical take on the events in Enron.
The tale becomes fascinating for anyone not much familiar with what happened. The complex details do come across in profusion and move so swiftly that you might have an urge to take notes. But you needn’t worry; the staging and the clever multiplicity of visual designs make the essentials abundantly clear. Advance preparation is also possible in an excellent lobby display. The sharply comic elements should make the experience special for people who know more about the background.
Although this piece is called a satire with tellingly symbolic costumes poking nasty fun at some of the people and events connected to the chicanery, don’t expect riotous laughs. Prebble is making points rather than trying to amuse you. In fact, after the more expositional first act, the second act pulses on with serious drama featuring excellently written dialogue.
Visiting director Kimberley Faith Hickman has made a fine, perceptive decision on how the major roles are played. Her cast gives those characters realistic sincerity, not so much evil and sinister but, rather, oblivious to and unconcerned with their effect on eventual victims. The devil is in the details but there are no dark minions of Satan skulking in the shadows, even if what was done was hidden from revealing light. Meanwhile, nine other performers, with earnest energy and polished skill, fill the stage as 3o other people.
The script focuses on three top executives of Enron after the company emerged with that name as a 1986 Houston- based spin- off from Omaha’s Northern Natural Gas Company , and subsequent holding company Internorth. None of that background is covered. Nor need it be.
CEO Kenneth Lay was at the very top. He hired Enron Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Skilling who then delegated Andrew Fastow to explore the emerging deregulated energy market. As Chief Financial Officer Fastow created entities which he called “raptors” as if Jurassic Park creatures. They consumed and digested hundreds of millions of dollars, but off Enron’s books, making the company seem more profitable than it really was. These were among a large array of deceptive, intricate and fraudulent accounting practices to cover realistic reporting of Enron’s financial situations. But those three men were not the only ones with roles in the actual massive fraud ; many executives were eventually indicted for a variety of charges and subsequently sentenced to prison. In addition to what’s in the lobby, you can also learn more about these complexities at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enron.
There is a fourth major character in the play, Claudia Roe. Prebble invented her to represent women executives in the real events who questioned and confronted Skilling and had better moral compasses.
Matthew Pyle’s portrayal of Skilling has memorable, appealing depth, almost a sense of innocence, as if an adolescent so caught up becoming a champion computer game player that the real world outside doesn’t even exist. As Ken Lay, Paul Schneider charmingly gives him the seeming benignity of a doting uncle who thinks that that outside world stays sunny and bright and that shiny green money is as abundant as the grass on a well-tended golf course. Chris Shonka’s take as Fastow capably comes across as an eager nerd whose urge to please will send him spinning and stumbling into bewilderment, as if he forgot to tie his shoelaces. Claudia is portrayed by Connie Lee, who remains convincingly dynamic and assertive. In supporting roles Jamie Lewis and Raydell Cordell III both acquit themselves well as a lawyer and a security guard.
Hickman also gets excellent visual enhancements from costume designer Lydia Dawson and properties master Darin Kuehler.
You might want to know that the dialogue is peppered with profanity. And that there is a somewhat explicit sexual situation, where Prebble cleverly foreshadows Skilling and Claudia’s relationship yet to come.
Characteristically, the otherwise well-produced program book fails to inform readers about the background of the person who wrote what is being presented. Prebble won a Performance Marketing Most Promising Playwright Award while a university student and then went on to garner other awards for her plays The Sugar Syndrome and The Effect. She also created the TV series Secret Diary of a Call Girl. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_Prebble) She’s certainly familiar with corporate culture; her brother and sister have worked for massive Accenture, which Wikipedia defines as a multinational management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company.
The Playhouse certainly took a risk investing time, money and energy into a relatively little known play as its season opener. But, in such exploring of the recent past, no doubt resonating locally, the pay-off bodes well for the future.
Enron continues through September 14 at Howard Drew Theatre, Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. Thurs-Sat: 7:30 p.m. Sun: 2 p.m. Tickets: $22-$36. www.OmahaPlayhouse.org