TimeLine Theatre’s “Enron” is a Brilliant Depiction of a Business Tragedy

A play about business? Really? Yes, really fantastic.

I didn’t know what to expect when I heard about TimeLine Theatre’s latest production, “Enron,” an award-winning play by British playwright Lucy Prebble that debuted on Broadway in 2010 to mixed reviews. Would I be lost because I barely passed Econ 101? The glossary of business jargon in the program did little to ease that concern. And it’s not like I could look forward to a surprise ending.

But Director Rachel Rockwell and her gifted cast and crew made this show a roller coaster ride from start to finish, bringing the most abstract of business dealings to life through playful personifications.

Enron’s “shadow” companies, made from its own stock and nicknamed “raptors,” are played by three aggressive actors sporting dinosaur heads and eating up dollar bills (they are each killed with a keystroke, with dramatic sound effects by original music and sound designer Kevin O’Donnell); three blind mice, complete with mouse heads and walking sticks, play the company’s board of directors; the accountants are a ventriloquist’s dummy; and Lehman Brothers are Siamese twins sharing a suit, to name just a few examples.

TV screen projections by Mike Tutaj take us back to the late ‘90s, flashing images of “Teletubbies,” “Home Alone,” Mike Tyson, Monica Lewinsky, “Pretty Woman,” O.J. Simpson, Princess Diana and more. Later, the screens show Enron’s stock price, which rises and falls depending on how CEO Jeffrey Skilling declares he’s feeling. In Act Two, the screens track the results of the 2000 presidental election, as the Houston-based company roots for its hometown boy, George W. Bush, and the deregulation of electricity his administration would bring.

Music evokes the frenetic pace of the business world as workers rush in, out and around the stage. The show gets loud as fratty traders get to work—and get in a fight. When the largest corporate bankruptcy in America’s history occurs, Chairman Kenneth Lay (played by Terry Hamilton of Deerfield) is showered from above with shredded documents as he gives his speech.

In addition to the innovative scene-setting, the cast is also excellent. Sean Fortunato of Evanston is appropriately slimy as the desperate, conniving, illegally creative CFO Andy Fastow. Bret Tuomi is outstanding as the defiant visionary Jeffrey Skilling, who maintained his innocence. And Amy Matheny is as pitch-perfect with her corporate hairdo and Houston accent as Claudia Roe, an Enron executive at war with Skilling—at least, when they’re not having sex on a conference room table.

“Enron,” which runs approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, plays through April 15 at Timeline Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago. For tickets, call 773-281-TIME (8463) or visit timelinetheatre.com.

Photo by Lara Goetsch

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