Periscope Depth

baby, when the lights go out

Enron: a colorful, passionate and clever retelling of the rise and fall of the energy company of the same name. Recently wrapped at the BCA Plaza Theater. Produced by Zeitgeist Stage Company (The Kentucky Cycle, etc).

Enron takes plenty of liberties with the source material: condensing several years of conflict into single meetings; imagining an affair between Jeff Skilling and a (fictional) female vice president, Claudia Roe; playing up the importance of certain future developments, like the deregulation of the electricity market, to introduce foreshadowing. The play goes even further, especially in Zeitgeist’s hands, by turning several abstruse financial developments into colorful setpieces. Enron’s traders jack up the price of California’s electricity by dueling with lightsabers. When Andy Fastow explains the scheme by which Enron’s debt can be hidden, he does so by opening a nesting series of boxes with one flourish after another. And when Fastow unveils the Raptors, special-purpose entities designed to buy up Enron’s debt and make it appear profitable, three raptors with glowing eyes stalk onstage, cocking their heads and snarling.

The play hinges on the character of Jeff Skilling, and Victor Shopov plays him to the hilt. He is that perfect villain, just recognizable enough for us to hate him. We enjoy watching him succeed, conducting his minions like Leonard Bernstein as they trade energy to a pulsing techno beat. We cringe at the pathos of his suffering: a whispered phone call to his wife to sell her Enron shares. He’s bold, audacious, disrespectful and unethical. He’s admirably supported by the nebbishy Fastow (Greg Ferrisi), so eager to please his mentor that he’s seduced into creating fraudulent companies to show off his genius. And paired against them is Claudia Roe (Erin Cole). She’s a rarity among female characters: someone strong enough to stand on her own merits. She’s not a hero – early exchanges make it clear she’s as greedy as any of the other Enron executives. She champions Enron’s power plant in Dabhol, India, not out of some desire to bring electricity to the poor but because she wants a monopoly on Third World power. She sleeps with Skilling because it’s fun, and because they’re kindred spirits in ambition, but drops him when it becomes inconvenient. She’s calculating, but not an ice queen; she’s passionate, but not a whimperer.

The play – and this production – aren’t perfect. Bill Salem as Ken Lay struggles to find a Texan accent and peppers his dialogue with odd pauses. The first act dumps the concept of “mark-to-market” on the audience in awkward cocktail party exposition; compared to the lightsaber duels and techno parties of the rest of the play, it’s a drag. And Skilling’s final monologue, delivered in an orange jumpsuit, offers neither a defiant fist against the heavens or any new insight into his mind. These criticisms aside, Enron does something rare in a production inspired by history. It’s entertaining and informative at the same time, and with equal effectiveness. And it gives the appearance of justice having been served.