`Enron` recounts financial finagling

New York: The financial finagling is not as much fun as it should be in ‘Enron,’ a flashy yet lumbering docudrama that has arrived on Broadway trailing rave reviews from England, where maybe they take a much keener delight in all-American chicanery.

Lucy Prebble`s satiric soapbox of a play, which opened Tuesday at the Broadhurst Theatre, has been recast with American actors, and apparently there has been some rewriting, but the evening is still awash in excessive exposition that threatens to upend the expensive-looking, busy production.

"In the past, folks thought that the basic unit of society would be the state or the church or ... the political party. But we now know it`s The Company," says Kenneth Lay, head honcho of the Houston-based energy concern at the center of Prebble`s play.

Lay, portrayed by an avuncular Gregory Itzin, may be Enron`s patriarch, but the play focuses primarily on the machinations of Jeffrey Skilling, its steely CEO. In the go-go 1990s, he sets in motion a complicated scam devised by his chief financial underling, Andy Fastow.

Skilling is portrayed by Norbert Leo Butz, whose experience playing a con man includes his Tony Award-winning performance in the 2005 musical "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." The actor is equally delightful here, but then Skilling is the play`s most fully realized character in a work more concerned with plot than people.

Not only plot, but eye-catching production values, a trademark of director Rupert Goold. Remember his ornate Patrick Stewart revival of "Macbeth" that smacked vaguely of Stalinist Russia?

Goold doesn`t let things stop moving here. And there certainly are a lot of intriguing, even outlandish things to see. Right from the start, we are treated to three blind mice, dressed in suits. A portent perhaps of the myopic view of a deceptively high-flying Enron by investors and Wall Street folks alike.

But those mice aren`t the only creatures on stage. Red-eyed raptors with lizard-like heads make an appearance, too, as part of the convoluted scheme to hide the ballooning debt Enron acquires as it constantly trumpets ever-growing profits.

And we haven`t even gotten to Scott Ambler`s Jedi knight choreography (complete with lighted sabers) for the Enron staff or a set of obsequious Siamese twins representing Lehman Brothers anxious to get on the Enron gravy train.

Anthony Ward`s large high-tech set designs are equally showy. They tend to dwarf the other actors, who include a sexy Marin Mazzie as Skilling`s adversary, a woman who quickly sees that something is wrong, and Stephen Kunken as the nerdy Fastow, the master of the firm`s monetary hocus-pocus.

The company eventually filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2001, after years of accounting tricks could no longer hide billions of dollars in debt or make failing ventures appear profitable.

Prebble`s dialogue veers toward hyperbolic, big statements that eventually prove wearying, especially in the overlong and increasingly moralistic second act.

It makes you appreciate the show`s visual moments. One of the more enjoyable aspects of ‘Enron’ is being able to watch the perpetually moving electronic ticker tape of Enron`s stock price — climbing higher and higher in Act 1 and then slipping lower and lower after intermission. Quite a ride. If only the play were as dramatically satisfying.

Bureau Report


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