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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Ladies and gentlemen, at last, corporate fraud moves from the boardroom to Broadway.

Jeff Lunden reports on the new play called "Enron."

JEFF LUNDEN: Even if playwright Lucy Prebble is only 29 years old, she adheres to an ancient stage adage: Thou shalt not be boring.

Ms. LUCY PREBBLE (Playwright, "Enron"): I suppose it comes fundamentally from this notion, a slightly childish notion on my part, which is: I don't want to write a play about finance that's boring. You know? Because that's what people expect. And also I read that Enron themselves, they hired Cirque du Soleil to perform at their company parties. I mean, they were not without the flamboyant themselves. So I thought: Can we bring that flamboyance to the stage?

(Soundbite of stage play, "Enron")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (unintelligible)

LUNDEN: Prebble has created a highly theatrical work, using songs, dance and videos, alongside convicted felons Jeffrey Skilling, Kenneth Lay and Andrew Fastow.

Director Rupert Goold says Prebble uses just about every device in a playwright's toolkit to bring the culture of Enron to the stage.

Mr. RUPERT GOOLD (Director): It's a play about an accountancy fraud. It needs theatricality. It needs a metaphor. It needs big images. And she had stacks of them. And lot of them came out of Enron itself, which was such a sort of strange and warped organization, linguistically, as well as economically. And so, you know, the raptors that are featured in the show, you know, even the references to "Star Wars" that we then extrapolate out in the show, were very much in Enron, anyway.

LUNDEN: That's right: raptors, as in "Jurassic Park's" vicious dinosaurs who live in Chief Financial Officer Andy Fastow's office, voraciously eating up Enron's debt, a whimsical embodiment of the dummy corporations Fastow set up to mask the company's unprofitability.

(Soundbite of stage play, "Enron")

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, God! It's the raptors.

Unidentified Man #2: You like them? They like you.

Unidentified Man #1: That's where the debt goes?

Unidentified Man #2: With these sort of entities - though we could never have them publicly at Enron, but LJM doesn't need to show its books, so we can experiment here.

LUNDEN: Prebble says one of her chief challenges as a dramatist was to find ways to take complex and often deliberately opaque financial concepts and make them clear for an audience.

Ms. PREBBLE: There was a little artistic motivation for me to go, well, actually, is it possible to explain these terms or to dramatize these financial instruments in a way that will make people go, oh, really? It's just like that?

(Soundbite of stage play, "Enron")

Unidentified Man #2: They're consuming our debt.

Unidentified Man #1: Yes, debt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #1: All money is debt.

Unidentified Man #2: In what sense?

Unidentified Man #1: If the bank gives you money, you owe them. You put money in the bank, they owe you. All money is debt. It's just how you present it.

LUNDEN: The play is filled with bold theatrical choices, like a light saber dance a la "Star Wars" when California's electricity is deregulated and Enron's traders jack up prices with disastrous results for the state, but lots of money for the Enron.

Ms. PREBBLE: They named their trading and strategies things like Death Star - I mean, the most tasteless, immature thing you can imagine. But when you've got that material there, then, of course, you go, well wouldn't it be great, then, to portray it with a dance?

(Soundbite of stage play, "Enron")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: This is the single largest transfer of wealth I've ever seen.

Unidentified Man #3: We're like the Roman Empire.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #3: We're going (beep) down.

Unidentified Man #4: Let's light this mother(beep) up.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of chatter)

(Soundbite of a dog barking)

Unidentified Man #5: You know the difference between the State of California and the Titanic? At least when the Titanic went down, the lights were on.

(Soundbite of light sabers)

Ms. PREBBLE: What I find really interesting about economics is that it essentially is about people. It's essentially about people behaving, whether they're selling something out of fear or buying something out of greed. Those are essentially emotions.

LUNDEN: And perhaps the greatest embodiment of greed and fear in Enron is the character of Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling. Prebble feels he's kind of a contemporary Richard III.

Ms. PREBBLE: The tragic journey of an anti-hero, which I think is what I try and make Skilling, from this kind of frustrated nerd - which is kind of what he was - to reinvent himself to become this invigorated, powerful CEO. He physically reinvented himself, as well. I mean, he lost all this weight and kind of got LASIK on his eyes, and all of this sort of stuff.

And then he ends up going to prison for 24 years and kind of drinking too much and screaming at people in the street, which is kind of what happened to him. I just thought: That is an arc.

(Soundbite of stage play, "Enron")

Unidentified Man #5: We've got the best business plan with the smartest graduates. The trouble is, right now, we're not making any money.

Unidentified Man #6: How bad?

Unidentified Man #5: You with me?

Unidentified Man #6: Always.

Unidentified Man #6: I can't find any area right now, except trading. And there, day to day, we might lose as much as we make.

Unidentified Man #5: Wow. Yeah.

Unidentified Man #6: You're not kidding?

Unidentified Man #5: I am not kidding. Yeah, I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't mind taking losses. I just - I can't report taking losses.

LUNDEN: Prebble says she didn't want to go for easy solutions in portraying this story of corporate chicanery.

Ms. PREBBLE: Yes. There's absolutely no argument that what Skilling and Fastow and Lay, I think, did was terrible and wrong. However, it's also something in us, which means that we are bound into this boom-and-bust situation, that we constantly create these bubbles out of excitement and fervor and then destroy ourselves. And it happens again and again and again.

So there's a final speech in the play where Skilling himself talks about that to the audience, and in a very challenging way and says, well, it's not just me, you know. It's also you. And you can feel the audience going, oh, I don't quite know how to respond to that.

(Soundbite of stage play, "Enron")

Unidentified Man #5: Everything I've ever done in my whole life worth anything was done in a bubble, in a state of extreme hope and trust and stupidity.

LUNDEN: The play was a hit in London, and director Rupert Goold hopes its success will be duplicated in New York. But he does notice a difference in perception.

Mr. GOOLD: When we did it in England, it was a play that had sort of slightly Broadway-ish values - you know, musical numbers and dancing, and kind of razzmatazz. But now we're on Broadway. Strangely, it feels like a show that has a kind of cerebral, this kind of challenging heart.

LUNDEN: "Enron" is currently playing at the Broadhurst Theater on Broadway.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden, in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Scenes from the play are at npr.org.

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