THINKING DOG REVIEWS

The Good, the Bad, and the Boring in Theater and Other Creative Arts Around and About Hampton Roads, VA.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ambition Opens 2011-12 Season at the Generic

Enron Exposes the Criminal Roots of Irrational Exuberance

Norfolk’s Generic Theater opened its 31st season Friday night (Sept. 9) with the Virginia debut of British playwright Lucy Prebble’s Enron, a seriously ambitious project…. Let’s hope, at least, they get an excess of love and appreciation from packed houses for bringing this important show to the stage way-down-under in Chrysler Hall….

Do you remember Enron? I barely did, after the mind-numbing procession of corporate malfeasance that followed, continuing, of course, to this day. Yet remembering the Enron scandal is instructional, for with hindsight it becomes apparent that the energy company’s collapse was a canary in a coal mine. It signaled the presence of the subtle poison of self-undoing which unregulated free market capitalism had injected into our social contract, especially when practiced by certain highly torqued alpha males whose natural habitat is Texas.

Not that Texas has a monopoly on toxic alpha males in this land of the free. Wherever brains and massive ego outweigh common sense and old-fashioned decency, you will find the Jeff Skillings and Andy Fastows of this world busy dreaming, scheming, and making deals—smart guys who vastly underestimate their capacity for human error or, in obsolete parlance, Biblical sin….

Ken Lay, the founder of Enron, likes to see himself as the benevolent patriarch of the corporation. As played by Chris Kypros, he comes across as an old-fashioned Chamber-of-Commerce type who believes business is America’s religion. He easily becomes enabler to the get-rich-quick schemes proposed by Skilling, played by Kent Collins, who himself is brought to a higher level of corruption by a numbers man, Andy Fastow, played by Ethan Marten.

Marten’s Fastow—bordering on psychopathic—is a work of art, a stand-out performance. His accounting bargain with the devil, symbolized by three dancing reptilian figures he plays with like a lion trainer, is the show’s most pointed, poison-tipped dagger. Collin’s Skilling, on the other hand, is much less blind to the danger he’s in and so more vulnerable. His undoing is his ego-mania, his arrogant conviction that he’s smarter than anyone else. Collins is convincing as the confident Skilling but less emotionally certain of the ruined Skilling, who was ultimately convicted of nineteen counts of conspiracy and fraud and sentenced to 24 years in prison, a mighty fall for a proud elitist. Fastow, by cooperating with prosecutors, got off with two counts and six years, though he was the brains behind the creative accounting that led to a debt of $30 billion and, in 2002, bankruptcy of a company once considered the leading light of American business genius….

Enron continues at the Generic Thursday through Sunday until Oct. 2. All performances are at 8 except for Sunday matinees at 2:30. Tickets are $15 general admission, $12 for seniors, military, and students, and $10 for groups of ten or more. For information and reservations, call 757-441-2160 or, on the web, go to Generic Theater

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