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Enron at TimeLine Theatre Company | Theater review

Underneath its flash and fancy, Lucy Prebble’s recounting of the Enron scandal is a lumbering, oversimplified lesson in economics.

Photograph: Lara Goetsch
Ken Lay (Terry Hamilton) addresses his employees in Enron at TimeLine Theatre Company

After debuting to raves in London and indifference in New York, British playwright Lucy Prebble’s recounting of the rise and precipitous fall of Houston energy company Enron arrives here in an intimate, in-the-round production at TimeLine. Rachel Rockwell’s slow-footed staging tones down some of the reported multimedia excesses of the Broadway run, though Prebble’s flights of fancy remain: Enron’s board members are blind mice, CFO Andrew Fastow’s “raptor” debt shelters are actual velociraptors.

Using found text from hearing transcripts and public statements alongside whole-cloth fiction, Prebble makes Enron president Jeff Skilling (Bret Tuomi) the scandal’s antihero, rocketing to power and Fortune covers on the strength of sheer greed and will—and the increasingly toxic creative accounting of his sycophant Fastow (a weaselly Sean Fortunato). CEO Kenneth Lay (Terry Hamilton) is depicted as a folksy, hands-off leader.

Unfortunately, those characterizations are about the extent of Prebble’s point of view. Despite the couple dozen metaphors the playwright hangs on the proceedings, seemingly designed to position Enron as a cautionary fairy tale, she forgets to include a moral, failing to probe Skilling’s motivations; with nothing to go on, Tuomi plays him as a sociopathic blank. Take away the puppets and masks and spastic video projections, the bells and whistles, and this is a lumbering, overly expository economics lesson, like an Ezra Klein column with flashier charts.

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