Song, Dance, Raptors and “Enron”



With a wild array of song, dance, humor and drama, “Enron” critiques American business practices and failures.


On December 2, 2001, Houston-based energy company Enron, whose shares once peaked at $90.75, declared bankruptcy. Ironically, the collapse of Enron Corporation, hailed by Fortune as “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years, was partially instigated by an article titled “Is Enron Overpriced?” in the same magazine. Eight years later, Enron’s financial scandal inspired the British playwright Lucy Prebble to conceive a play of the same name, stylized emphatically in promotional material as “ENRON.”

The spring faculty production of “Enron” was presented last weekend at Wright Memorial Theater, starring Sebastian LaPointe ’18 as the brilliant though somewhat egotistical chief executive of Enron Jeffrey Skilling, Madeleine Russell ’19 as Skilling’s business rival Claudia Roe, a fictional figure who is a combination of different Enron executives and who serves as the sole central female figure in the play, Galen Fastie ’20 as Enron’s chief financial officer Andy Fastow and affiliated artist Peter Schmitz as Ken Lay, the founder and chairman of Enron Corporation. 

Director Cheryl Faraone, a professor of theater and gender, sexuality and feminist studies, explained her decision to produce “Enron.”

“The story of Enron’s implosion is one which has fascinated and angered people for a long time,” she said. “Multiple books and many articles have been written, documentaries filmed. Even in our community I encountered people whose lives were directly touched by the company.”

Compared to journalistic accounts, Prebble’s interpretation of the Enron incident for the stage offers a fresh and perhaps more sympathetic view towards the mostly male Enron executives who wanted, as the saying goes, to “change the world.” 

Prebble’s Skilling, as presented by LaPointe, is both obsessively ambitious and surprisingly idealistic. His vision of Enron as “not just an energy company, but a powerhouse for ideas” with a corporate culture of “less structure, less routine,” where “people’s minds [can] run” bears resemblance to the slogans of more than a few majorly successful contemporary corporations. Skilling’s faith in the power of his idea of market to market energy trading to create “new industries, new economies” was convincing.

The heavy use of gendered language within the play, not least by Skilling, draws attention to Enron’s macho-culture that perhaps lent its executives an overabundance of false confidence. Skilling’s influence over his energy-traders is comparable to that of a god over his reverent followers, or that of a hound-master over his pack of hunting dogs. Skilling questions “why [we] should respect ineptitude” and advises his protégé Fastow to “never apologize.” One of Skilling’s traders declares that the game of the deal is the “closest thing there is to hunting, closest thing there is to sex —  for a man, that is,” echoing Skilling’s capitalistic sentiment that “business is nature.”

In a moment of reckless desperation to impress his boss, Fastow pitches to Skilling his idea of special purpose entities, an ingenious series of hedges or partnerships with shell companies where Enron could bury its losses to maintain its high stock value. “F— it.” Fastow says, throwing his origami mathematical models aside. “Two guys in a room. You want my help?”

The special purpose entities, or Raptors, as they later came to be called, were represented on stage by dinosaur-like figures that physically consumed Enron’s debt. Curiously, their relationship to Fastow resembles that between a master and his beloved pets, between a father and his children. “Clever girls,” he coos upon the green-scaled financial vehicles’ first appearance. The later scene in which a mournful Fastow is forced to “kill” his Raptors seemed almost tragic.

The rest of the play makes ample use of caricatures such as the Raptors to simultaneously elucidate and ridicule American business practices. Three blind mice who saunter on stage at frequent intervals refer quite apparently to the company’s board, who have questionable knowledge of the company’s true financial operations, the accounting company Arthur Andersen is played by a ventriloquist and his dummy and financial services firm Lehman Brothers is a weak-kneed pair of conjoined twins who change their rating of Enron from “moderate buy” to “strong buy” after a thinly veiled threat from Fastow.

“There is a huge difference in the forms,” said Faraone, contrasting news reports on Enron with Prebble’s play, observing that the play offers psychological insight into chief executives at Enron. “Though the playwright relies heavily on actual statements, the play constructs an interior life for Skilling that does not show up in much reporting. For theatrical purposes, complex, flawed, fascinating characters like Skilling are utterly compelling. Whether or not we would personally ever like or trust them is not really relevant in the story that’s being told. This isn’t the story of just one man, is it?”

In a rare moment of vulnerability in his final court hearing on stage, Skilling reveals the true purpose of his actions at Enron, as interpreted by Prebble. “I’m not a bad man,” he insists. “I’m not an unusual man. I just wanted to change the world.”

“Theatrically,” Faraone said, “Enron” is “a terrific piece, epic in scope, with humor, song and dance, melodrama, sexiness and outrage.”