ENRON@ The Gaiety Theatre
October 20, 2010
Many reasons have been bandied about for ENRON’s failure to set Broadway alight. Some have blamed the ‘Poisoned Pen’ of New York Time’s theatre critic Ben Brantley, who said that Lucy Preebles’ exploration of financial smoke and mirrors was little more than smoke and mirrors itself; The Guardian noted the failure of all such hyper theatrical productions since Tony Kushner’s Angels in America; while the Telegraph tried to pass it off as American sensitivity to having their story told by the Brits. Famed and usually able minded Michael Billington suggested that the TONY’s (for not giving it more nominations), the Taliban (for plotting to bomb Time’s Square) and the plays American cast (for-ALARM BELLS- not being good enough). Having seen the show myself my own conclusion is that it is the
production- rather than any performer- that’s guilty of the latter.
When Preebles and director Rupert Goold sped up the artistic process so that they could make good money out of bad they may have gathered up the critical kudos for exploring the current financial climate in an informative and, what some might call, entertaining manor but they also watered down the character, choreography and score of the piece so that while the production values (and budget) are high the show
itself is a weak, uninvolving symphony of style over substance.
Goold breaks the murky world of energy trading down into tasty visual nuggets. The traders are cowboys, ninjas and bikers; the shadow companies gorging on debt are reptilian creatures that dwell in ENRONs dark underbelly while the doomed Lehman Brothers are a pair of geeky Siamese twins. There’s an eye catching explanation of California’s energy crisis involving light sabers and a great nod to barbershop quartets in the hailing of Corey Johnson’s Jeffrey Skilling (who go wildly out of tune as the piece concludes) with lots of flashing lights, era enlivening TV clips and a blast of Dolly’s 9-5. Preeble’s script acknowledges the homoerotic tension of the traders without ever really capturing it and she and director Goold pile on the visual motifs, gathering up theatrical styles and genres like children on Halloween before spewing them onto the stage, tricks without treats. Much of the dancing involves characters jumping over or around boxes and for all its gaudy fireworks there is no spark to this piece.
Preebles has the same problem with character that Skilling had with profits in that they never materialise. You don’t have to be likable or even credible to be affecting but as the world falls down around Jeffrey Skilling and his cronies we get no sense of the panic that should ensnare them. With the exception of Paul Chahidi’s Andy Fastow none of them seem to really enjoy what they do and Sara Stewart’s Claudia Roe, Skilling’s supposed rival and love interest, is a spunk splattered ball breaker whose womanly wiles have been frozen out of existence turning her into a shrill, petulant cock in a frock.
The tragedy of ENRON was the affect Skilling’s plan had on his shareholders and employee’s. The tragedy of this production is their inability to fit this tragedy in beyond a too little too late graveside confrontation. Goold’s magnificent eye for the aesthetic provides little by way of compensation for a script that is an economic stroll down Sesame Street lacking the charm and appeal of Big Bird and co.