DALLAS The gap between perception and reality is obvious to many; but as is increasingly happening with corporate culture in America, that divide is hazier than the Beaumont air. It was certainly that way for Jeffrey Skilling, the man who was picked by Kenneth Lay to run Houston energy company Enron, and whose persistent denial of wrong-doing, even after he was indicted, gives him a tragic flaw and sets his story up for a tragedy in the traditional definition.
Thats what playwright Lucy Prebble saw in it, and her play Enron, which was acclaimed in London, less-so on Broadway and is now having an area premiere courtesy of Theatre Three in Dallas, lets the tragedy build until the inevitable downfall we all know is coming. And still, in his mind, its all because the market demanded it. His response after being found guilty on 19 separate counts of securities fraud, wire fraud and insider trading: You ─ you failed me. You didnt believe enough. Dont you see? This is my life. To him, the you is us. The audience. America.
A modern and very relevant tragedy that deals with stock market manipulation, shadow companies and one-percent hubris might not sound like an exciting time in the theater, and indeed, at times it feels too long. But Prebble threads the narrative with fantasy/variety sequences that include actors wearing mouse heads and carrying white canes (three blind mice); an accountant who holds a ventriloquists dummy; blind-folded, scale-bearing representations of Justice; and, most intriguingly, puppets of raptors straight out of Jurassic Park (designed by David Goodwin). A few times, cast members don striped jackets and straw hats, to represent a metaphorical song-and-dance that some executives often engage in, even as it has detrimental effects in the trickle-down.
Its another astute production from director Jeffrey Schmidt, who, in case the higher-ups at Theatre Three havent already been thinking about it, needs to be seriously considered as an artist who can take the 51-year-old company into the future. Aside from the metaphors already in Prebbles concept, Schmidt doesnt bog it down with extra symbolic trickery or heavy-handedness.
As Skilling, Chris Hury gives us a character we already know is misguided (to put it lightly) and layers the ambiguities so skillfully that we actually care for this man who claims, in a harrowing final speech, that hes not bad or unusual ─ he merely wanted to change the world. There are equally compelling performances from David Goodwin as CFO Andy Fastow, Doug Jackson as Kenneth Lay and Jennifer Boswell as early Skilling rival Claudia Roe.
But its Hury who takes this production to the level of great. Playing the smartest guy in the room who sees himself as another important innovator in a long line of people who have made this country the economic power it is, Hury manages to convince us of Skillings humanity even as he scares the heck out of us.
He represents a certain type thats become all too common in this country: The power-hungry, ultra-rich executive whose lies, greed and hubris are lost on a good portion of the country that sees these folks as doing something that allows capitalism and freedom to thrive.