In the fall of 2000, Houston's Enron Corporation claimed revenues of $101 billion. A year later, it was discovered to be worth exactly nothing, and 20,000 employees were out on their asses. The fallout cost fortunes and lives; we're living with it still.
Yes, we know that. But just as the demise of HMS Titanic could be reenacted with suspense, so can the downfall of Enron. It already has, in fact, as anyone who's seen the 2005 documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room can attest. The closer I listened to Lucy Prebble's 2009 script for ENRON, currently playing at South Puget Sound Community College, the more I admired its intelligence and creativity. The problem is, it develops at such a snail's pace, we anticipate rather than react to each new twist. By the two-and-a-half-hour mark, we're groaning: Collapse already! If it weren't for numerous scene changes on Sominex, the show would be half an hour shorter. My wife remarked, "For a show about an energy company, they sure don't seem to have any."
I feel guilty knocking this production, as I'm told it lost weeks of rehearsal to Snowpocalypse. It shows. The cast seems unprepared for each succeeding scene, and there are dozens. That having been said, when ENRON fails, it fails with ambition. The show employs vaudevillian touches (like stuffing the Lehman brothers into a single pair of pants) and upstage projections to keep the math understandable. Justin Smith has grown considerably as an actor, and he nails a closing monologue as Jeffrey Skilling. He can't play rage effectively yet, but that has to flow from a tempo the show never achieves.
The cast varies widely in experience and ability. Maxwell Schilling is very good indeed as CFO Andy Fastow, as is Alexander Layden as Skilling's defense attorney. James Wood shines in multiple tech positions. A quick note to stage manager Rachel Folwell, though: might there be a better way to introduce the intermission than the PA announcement, "Um...it's intermission?"
[South Puget Sound Community College, ENRON, through Feb. 19, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, $7-13, 2011 Mottman Rd SW, Olympia, 360.753.8586]