In 'Enron,' Raptors And 'Star Wars' And Song (Oh My!) If you thought a play about a corporation's demise couldn't be anything but boring, think again. Playwright Lucy Prebble's production uses debt-eating raptors and light saber dance numbers to tell the story of how Enron went from being one of the world's leading energy corporations to Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
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In 'Enron,' Raptors And 'Star Wars' And Song (Oh My!)

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In 'Enron,' Raptors And 'Star Wars' And Song (Oh My!)

In 'Enron,' Raptors And 'Star Wars' And Song (Oh My!)

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  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

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.

LUCY PREBBLE: Unidentified Group: (Singing) (unintelligible)

(SOUNDBITE OF STAGE PLAY, "ENRON")

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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

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

(SOUNDBITE OF STAGE PLAY, "ENRON")

LJM: 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.

PREBBLE: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAGE PLAY, "ENRON")

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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.

PREBBLE: 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 STAGE PLAY, "ENRON")

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF A DOG BARKING)

(SOUNDBITE OF LIGHT SABERS)

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.

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.

INSKEEP: Unidentified Man #6: Always.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAGE PLAY, "ENRON")

INSKEEP: Unidentified Man #6: You're not kidding?

INSKEEP: 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.

PREBBLE: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAGE PLAY, "ENRON")

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.

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: 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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