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British Dramatist Lucy Prebble’s Play “Enron” Turns a U.S. Financial Scandal into a Multimedia Spectacle

New York City actor Nick Berg Barnes stars as Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling (photo by the Right Image Photography, Inc.)

New York City actor Nick Berg Barnes stars as Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling (photo by the Right Image Photography, Inc.)

Burning Coal Theatre Company will kick off its 15th season with the Southeastern premiere of Enron, a ripped-from-the headlines drama that 30-year-old British playwright Lucy Prebble, on Sept. 8-11, 15-18, and 22-25 in Burning Coal Theatre at the Murphey School downtown adjacent to the Historic Oakwood Section of Raleigh, NC.

In 2009, Prebble transformed the 2001 financial scandal that ended in the bankruptcy of the Houston, TX-based energy company and a nearly $11 billion loss to its shareholders into a highly entertaining multimedia spectacle that the London Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish called an “era-defining, must see theatrical event” and  Michael Billington, writing in The Guardian, described Enron as “an exhilarating mix of political satire, modern morality and multimedia spectacle.”

“I heard about Enron through the reading that I do to familiarize myself with the next wave of theater coming out of the United Kingdom,” recalls Burning Coal artistic director Jerome Davis. “Enron opened at the famed Royal Court Theatre in London in 2009 and transferred to London’s West End (their version of Broadway) in early 2010.”

Davis says, “I went over to London and saw the production, having read the script in the meantime. I think the play is very tight, very clear, and really dramatically exciting.”

Enron made its Broadway debut, directed by Rupert Goold and choreographed by Scott Ambler, on April 27, 2010 at the Broadhurst Theatre, where it played just 22 performances before closing on May 9, 2010. The show nevertheless earned four 2010 Tony Award® nominations, including a nomination for Best Original Score Written for the Theatre (composer Adam Cork and lyricist Lucy Prebble).

Burning Coal director Jerry Davis claims, “Like [William Shakespeare’s] Richard III, Enron is full of passion, wit, and bad behavior; and — just when you think it’s going to be a lecture– it turns on a dime and reveals something about human nature that is both exhilarating, shocking and, frankly, part of what makes living so worthwhile….

“I love working on plays about characters who are multidimensional, who state strongly their case, and whose attitude toward life is different from my own,” says Davis. “I love trying to wrap my head around their motivations, desire, etc.

Jeffrey Skilling, Andy Fastow, Ken Lay, Rebecca West — all those Enron execs could have gotten out of the game long before the company collapsed and had enough money to live very comfortably for the rest of their lives,” says Davis. “But they stayed in the game, at the expense of personal relationships, their own health and, ultimately, their reputations. Why?

“The logical answer,” Davis claims, “is that they actually thought they were doing something good. I’m anxious to discover how a human being moves from that idea to the criminality that ultimately engulfed them all.”

The cast of "Enron" includes (from left) Nick Berg Barnes as Jeffrey Skilling, John Allore as Andy  Fastow, and Jenn Suchanec as Claudia Roe (photo by the Right Image Photography, Inc.)

The cast of "Enron" includes (from left) Nick Berg Barnes as Jeffrey Skilling, John Allore as Andy Fastow, and Jenn Suchanec as Claudia Roe (photo by the Right Image Photography, Inc.)

Enron director Jerry Davis says, “The play introduces us to Enron CEO Ken Lay (Chapel Hill actor Mark Filiaci), and a young upstart at his company, Jeffrey Skilling (New York City actor Nick Berg Barnes). Skilling believes he is ‘F***ing Smart’ and that the main problem with the company is that they aren’t creative and aggressive enough.”

Davis adds, “Skilling finds a kindred spirit in the company in young Andy Fastow (Durham actor John Allore), a self-described ‘numbers guy.’ Together, they fight against the company’s ‘old guard,’ led by Claudia Roe (Raleigh actress Jenn Suchanec) and Lay himself, both of whom would prefer the ‘slow-but-steady’ route to Skilling and Fastow’s fast-track approach to success.

“Ultimately,” Davis explains, “Skilling is able to bring Lay around to his way of thinking; and the company takes off into the stratosphere, [with] its stock rising rapidly. But something ugly and violent lies beneath the surface — something that will bring down one of the most successful businesses in U.S. history.”

In addition to the actors and actress named above the Enron cast includes Raleigh’s James Anderson, Gus Allen, Julie Oliver, Jason Mark Durst, Josh Allen, Whitney Madren, Riley Watson, and Benji Jones; Durham’s Jade Arnold; and Chapel Hill’s Amanda Watson, Christine Zagrobelny, and Jeff Aguiar.

In addition to director Jerome Davis, the Burning Coal Theatre Company creative team for Enron includes managing director Simmie Kastner, assistant director Caitlin Kimberlin, choreographer Robin Harris, musical director Julie Oliver, technical director Josh Silver, New York City-based set designer Drew Boyce and lighting designer Daniel Winters, costume designer Kelly Farrow, properties manager Jan Doub Morgan, videographer Ernie Gilbert, sound designer Aharon Segal, dramaturg Marshall Botvinik, and stage manager Rebecca Wyrick.

Jerry Davis says the show’s set is “a big blue and white box”; its lighting is “stark; and its costumes are “late 1990s business chic.” Burning Coal’s main challenge in presenting Enron is “Convincing people the play isn’t about numbers,” explains Davis. “It’s about human beings, in all their glories and failings. The play is nothing short of Shakespearian in its complex characters, plot, and ‘battle scenes.'”

He adds, “Enron rocks hard. The choreography by N.C. State University Dance Program director Robin Harris is startling. The show has a great sound design by Aharon Segal, and is going to blow people out of their seats!”

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents ENRON at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8-10, 2 p.m. Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15-17, 2 p.m. Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22-24, and 2 p.m. Sept. 25 in Burning Coal Theatre at the Murphey School, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.

TICKETS: $20 ($15 students and seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except pay-what-you-can performance on Sept. 11th, $10 Thursdays, $12 a ticket for groups of 10 or more, and $5 Student Rush Tickets.

BOX OFFICE: 919/834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/ticket/online/eventSearch.jsp?event_id=9935.

SHOW: http://www.burningcoal.org/season.html.

STUDY GUIDE: http://www.burningcoal.org/studyguides/EnronSG.pdf.

SEASON: http://www.burningcoal.org/season.html.

VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLrWQsgbmKc. PRESENTER: http://www.burningcoal.org/.

VENUE/PARKING/DIRECTIONS: http://www.burningcoal.org/third/murphey.html.

NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 2 p.m. Sept. 11th performance.

OTHER LINKS:

The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ENRON_(play) (Wikipedia) and http://ibdb.com/show.php?ID=485536 (Internet Broadway Database).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_Prebble (Wikipedia), http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsP/prebble-lucy.html (Doollee.com Playwrights Database), and http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=485539 (Internet Broadway Database).

The Director: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=641863091&sk=info#!/profile.php?id=641863091 (Facebook).

Enron Creditors Recovery Corp.: http://www.enron.com/ (official website).

The Enron Scandal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enron_scandal (Wikipedia).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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