Directed by – Jeffrey Schmidt
Set Design – Jeffrey Schmidt
Musical Director – Terry Dodson
Costume Design – Bruce Richard Coleman
Video and Lighting Design – Amanda West
Sound Design – Marco Salinas
Choreography – Kelly McCain
Raptor Marionette Design – David Goodwin
Beauen Bogner – Employee 1, J.P. Morgan, Anderson and others
Jennifer Boswell – Claudia Roe
Steph Garrett – Sloman, Hewitt and others
David Goodwin – Andy Fastow/Raptor Marionette Design
Francis “Hank” Henry Security Officer, Photographer, Lawyer 2. etc
Natalie Howe – Business Anchor, News Reporter and others
Chris Hury – Jeffrey Skilling
Doug Jackson – Ken Lay
Robert McCollum – Employee 2, Ramsay and others
Ken Orman – Lehman Brothers 1, Deutsche Bank, Board Member and others
Cara L. Reid – Reporter, Raptor Marionette and Prostitute
Aaron Roberts – Lawyer, Raptor Marionette and others
Jad Saxton – Daughter and others
Nicole Weber – Board Member, Raptor Marionette, Trader and others
Lucia Welch – Congress Woman, Irene Gant and Reporter
Clay Wheeler – Analyst, Lehman Brothers 2, Senator, Judge and others
Reviewed Performance 4/29/2013
Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
On Monday evening, I joined an audience of actors, directors, writers, producers, members of the media and others that work in the performing arts industry to watch Theatre Three’s current show, ENRON. This play tells part of the story of the rise and the crashing collapse of Enron Corporation and a few of the Enron Corporate executives that were partially or fully responsible for that growth and ultimate demise. The story is largely based on the facts and timelines of the meteoric rise of Jeff Skilling and Enron, its influence on business, the stock market, politicians and its employees. It also dealt with the ultimate collapse of the house of cards on which Enron was built. This production shows the opulent corporate culture of the company and many of its top executives as well as what happened when everything unraveled. While this is based on historical facts, it is the way the story is told that makes this production worth seeing.
As I was watching the show and then trying to classify it into a specific genre afterwards, I admitted to being stumped. Is it a musical? There is singing and dancing in the show but it is not pervasive. Is it a comedy? There are several moments and scenes of humor at events that are over the top. There was laughter at some of the well-written banter between some of the characters and situations that developed. But, no, I definitely won’t classify Enron as a comedy. Is it perhaps a drama or tragedy? If you are familiar with the history of the rise and fall of Enron, the names and actions of the executives and how those actions had such a devastating effect on tens of thousands of people, then this could certainly be considered a tragedy. Is it a farce or perhaps a puppet show?
The production of Enron is all of these and yet, it does not belong to any one category. The production is sometimes over the top, brash, provocative, creative sexy, and in-your-face, whether you like it or not. In other words, it is Enron!
Enron Corporation was an energy, commodities and services company that was based in Houston Texas. Before the scandal that ultimately forced it into bankruptcy on December 2, 2001, the company had employed over 20,000 staff and was considered one of the world’s more important companies working with electricity, communications, natural gas, and other related companies. In 2000, Enron claimed revenues of almost $101 billion. Fortune magazine even named Enron “Americas Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years from 1996-2001.
During 2000, Enron had been named one of the best 100 companies to work for in America. The company had offices that were described as opulent and stunning. Enron had been hailed by organized labor and the workforce as a great company to work for that offered strong long term pensions, benefits for its workers and very effective management, that is until the exposure of one of the worst corporate scandals in recent history.
By December, 2001, the public had begun to learn that most of Enron’s reported financial strength had largely been sustained through systematic and creative accounting fraud and has since become known as the Enron scandal. The subsequent bankruptcy, criminal investigations and civil lawsuits from the Enron scandal raised questions about the accounting practices still commonly used by many corporations in the United States and was a contributing factor in the creation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which was created to hold the executives of corporations personally liable for financially criminal actions by the companies for whom they work.
The law increased penalties for destroying, altering or fabricating records in federal investigations or for attempting to defraud shareholders. The law is also intended to increase the accountability of auditing firms to remain unbiased and independent of their clients.
For Theatre Three’s production, Jeffrey Schmidt designed the set and directed a production that made maximum use of the performance areas. The theatre in the round has an intimate performance space in the middle of the seating areas. All of the seating areas were used, in order to provide as much opportunity as possible for patrons to enjoy this show. Schmidt’s design included moveable set pieces and props such as tables, chairs, telephones, computer monitors and keyboards that were used to simulate at different times, an office environment, a commodities trading area and street scenes and a courtroom. Schmidt also used opposite corners of the stage to create other performance areas and locations. Each of these areas were a creative contrast and visually stimulating.
In the corner area where I was seated, Schmidt designed a raised platform that represented a multi-media presentation and interview area. This area was symbolically covered in shredded paper and used for news report and multimedia presentation scenes.
From there, scenes were projected onto a screen in the opposite corner. While I applaud the idea and creativity, the design made it extremely difficult or impossible for me and those seated around me, to see any of the performance that was staged on this platform.
In the opposite corner, Schmidt was even more creative with the set design. He created a circular, raised platform that included a stairway with partially removable stairs for various scenes. The top of the platform was used for various scenes, such as Skilling’s interaction with his daughter, confrontational scenes between him and Roe and the area where the judge was seated during the trial scenes. Schmidt made good use of the height of the platforms to create environments that represented superior and inferior relationships.
Even more creative was how the base of the platform was used. Within this circular platform is another performance area that seemed to be built on a rotating platform. This area rotated open to show the office where Andrew Fastow worked and created the raptor entities that were used and then destroyed; where they conceived the ideas for the shadow companies that bought and held the massive Enron debt through questionable accounting moves. This space gave the illusion of a basement or even dungeon office where the “mad scientist” creates and destroys.
With so many emotionally charged scenes of conflict, self discovery, self doubt, of emotional and performance competition, Amanda West was challenged with creating a lighting and media design that provided both adequate visibility and mood setting. Considering the multitude of areas and spaces that needed to be lit, she largely succeeded. An exception, as previously noted, would be the challenge for those audience members seated too close to either platform area. This was more of a design challenge, though, than a lighting challenge. Also of note was West’s use of multi-media. Despite the inability of everyone in the audience to see and fully appreciate the still photos and video, such as stock prices and news releases from the time period, the idea was very creative and fully fit the over-the-top, over-achiever and sometimes in- your-face style of the production.
Kelly McCain designed choreography that at times was funny, provocative, symbolic, and kept the audience’s attention. During various set changes the ensemble would use dance moves to stylistically bring on or remove set pieces, as well as enhance scenes. On two occasions, the ensemble were singing and dancing, first in praise of, then in accusation of Skilling. Skilling had a scene in which he performed an amusing song and dance as emphasis in a scene in which he and Enron had succeeded in achieving a goal. The choreography during the scene in which the commodity traders were buying and selling was intense.
While a few of the actors appeared to be using wireless microphones, it was really not needed in this intimate space. Sound Designer Marco Salinas did admirable work making sure that each word, sound, sigh and expletive from the actors and puppets were adequately heard and understood. The various sound effects needed for the raptors, the multi-media presentations and commodities trading areas were all believable and an important link in the production.
Bruce Richard Coleman does a remarkable job of creating and using a costume design that included the business styles from the late 1990’s to about 2000. This includes appropriate business attire for the corporate men and women, as well as the reporters and the other professional people. The designs for the commodity traders were accurate and slightly edgy, with a mix of sporty and professional attire. That also included bandanas and neckties being used as bandanas on the actors head. The use of the prosthetic penis in that scene, to make a point about Andrew Fastow, was surprising and unsettling.
The ensemble were always dressed for the part, whether it was at an office party, part of the trial proceedings, concerned employees or members of Congress. Costuming the members of the Board of Directors of Enron as the Three Blind Mice was symbolic. Watching characters dressed in formal business attire, black suit, with white shirt and tie, wearing a large caricature head of mouse wearing a blindfold and using a white cane, to make a symbolic statement is pointed and humorous.
As was the costume design for the representatives of the legal department and accounting departments at Enron. The costumes for Claudia Roe presented her as professional, seductive and ambitious. The changing costume styles for Jeffery Skilling showed the transformation of Skilling from the time of his rise to the leadership of Enron to his and Enron’s fall.
Each of the actors, whether a part of the ensemble or a principal role, performed with skill and was integral to the development of the story.
Jeffrey Skilling is one of the most well known characters from the historical event that is the Enron scandal. Skilling is more often thought of and described in unflattering terms as greedy, uncaring, selfish, and as a criminal. Chris Hury, as Skilling in this production, showed the audience other aspects of Skilling. In the opening scene, the audience is introduced to a young Skilling who wears glasses, has a slight paunch, dresses kind of nerdy and is highly confident and energetic.
Through the progression of the play, Hury shared with the audience the physical and emotional transformation of Skilling; the captain of industry, Skilling the father, Skilling the ex-husband and Skilling the convicted criminal that continued to insist that he did nothing wrong. Huey plays this character as someone with a single-minded ambition, that allows neither family nor friends get in the way of his drive for success and leadership of the company. As each situation presents unfolds, Hury, shows real emotions whether it is boyish earnestness in the initial scene is which he is introduced to the other corporate executives at Enron. Or, confusion, lust and competitive drive in each scene with Roe, As well as tenderness when Skilling is interacting with his daughter, frustration and manipulation in his scenes with Fastow and defiance in the final scenes.
Claudia Roe is really a fictional combination of all of the women that play a key role in the Enron story, women such as Sherron Watkins, a former VP at Enron and is considered to be the chief whistle blower, and Bethany Watkins who wrote an article in Fortune magazine that helped collapse the house of cards that Enron had built. Jennifer Boswell plays a character who is seductive, ambitious and passionate; a mother and person who cares about the financial health of the company that she wants to control, and genuinely mourns the passing of the company and those that she cares about. In an early scene, in which Roe and Skilling are romantically involved, Boswell shows the audience a character that is seductive, sexy and not afraid to use all of her talents in order to get what she wants.
While toward the end of the show, when someone that she cares about has died, Boswell presents a Roe that is sensitive, caring and genuinely sad at the loss.
Andrew Fastow was the Chief Financial Officer of Enron for much of the company’s meteoric rise and ultimate collapse. It was Andrew Fastow who designed the very complex web of shadow companies that allowed Enron to disguise and hide its true financial condition from the public, the investors and the employees that spent their life savings investing in the company. David Goodwin did an excellent portrayal of a man with seemingly conflicted and changing ethics. Goodwin used Fastow’s apparent hero worship of Skilling and his strong desire to be wanted, successful and important to present a character that is willing to bend legal moralities to gain approval and a position of success. Goodwin also designed and interacted brilliantly with the raptor marionettes that symbolized the shadow companies that Fastow creates. At times, it seemed that the raptors were beloved creations of a mad scientist who has to ultimately destroy his creations. The final scene in which Fastow and Skilling are each facing the court and are being questioned about their actions in deceiving the public, demonstrate the differences in the characters. Goodwin was able to effectively show that change in ethics and believably show a man that appears to truly regret his actions at Enron. Goodwin showed the insecurities and brilliance of the character as the story progressed.
When the Enron scandal erupted in 2001, Ken Lay was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chairman of the Board of Directors until his resignation in 2002. In 1999, Lay was considered one of the highest paid CEO’s in America, earning over $42 million in salary and compensation. In 2001, when Lay learned that Enron was going to be investigated and the stock price had begun to fall, he sold most of his stock while encouraging his employees to buy more stock, telling them that the company would rebound, and blamed the stock value decrease on rogue traders, government involvement and a lack of faith.
Doug Jackson portrayed Ken Lay as a father figure and good ol’ boy type of corporate leader. Jackson was believable as Lay because he committed to the interpretation of Lay as more of a behind the scenes power, rather than the more brash approach of Skilling. During the scene in which Roe and Skilling are each presenting their argument as to why they should lead the company, Jackson skillfully showed Lay’s iron fist in the velvet glove approach when making his decision. Jackson so accurately and consistently presented a Ken Lay as part politician, part used car salesman, with a grandfatherly touch, I was convinced I was watching a professional politician at work.
With a 15 minute intermission, this production runs two and a half hours. Though the choreography was at times brash and provocative, and moved the scenes along the pacing seemed a little choppy and slow on occasion.
After the show was over, a young friend in his mid-twenties asked me what I thought of the show. My reply was, “Well, what did you think?” He went on to tell me that there were several scenes and symbolism in the show that he did not understand. After I shared with him the historical background of Enron and how most of the characters portrayed in the show were actual characters, he expressed,”Ah. Ok, I get it now.”
This made me wonder, if even though this is a very visually appealing show with creative set, provocative choreography and very good acting, did the audience miss out on much of the symbolism in the show that signified the Enron collapse and ultimate scandal on our culture and society because they did not know the background of the event? While this is based on true events, it is the way the story is told that makes this production worth seeing. Sometimes, even when you know the facts and how a story ends, it is the thrill of the rides that makes the show worth the price of admission.
2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas, 75201
Play runs through May 25th
Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday-Saturday at 8:00pm, and Sunday at 2:30pm and 7:30pm.
Hooky Matinee is Wednesday, May 22nd at 2:00pm and Miser’s Night Out is Sunday, May 19th at 7:30 pm.
Tickets are between $25.00 - $50.00, depending on the performance day and time.
Hooky Matinee & Miser’s Night Out tickets are $10.00-$15.00.
For info, go to www.theatre3dallas.com or call the box offi