UNCSA presents “Enron” by Lucy Prebble, based on the true story of the riveting financial scandal

The schools of Design and Production and Drama at UNCSA will present “Enron,” a play by British playwright and producer Lucy Prebble about the disintegration of Enron Corp. at the hands of unscrupulous business leaders in the early 2000s. It will be directed by fourth-year Drama directing student Vivian Farahani.

Performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 26-28; Sunday, Oct. 29, at 2 p.m.; and at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 2-4, at the Catawba Theatre in Performance Place, 1533 S. Main St. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for non-UNCSA students with valid ID.

“Enron” rendering by Design and Production student Ben Hirschfield.

“Enron” rendering by Design and Production student Ben Hirschfield.

Enron Corp., an American energy company, was founded in 1985 following the merger of two companies, Houston Natural Gas Corp. and Inter-North Inc., a Nebraska pipeline company. At the start of 2001, Enron was ranked as the seventh largest publicly listed company in the United States and was called “America’s most innovative company” by Fortune magazine. Nevertheless, the company had incurred mountains of debt and was failing, but its leadership fooled regulators, investors and creditors with fake holdings and off-the-books accounting practices. The price of Enron’s shares went from $90.75 at its peak to $0.26 in bankruptcy by the end of that year, at the time making it the largest corporate bankruptcy in history.

After premiering in Chichester, England, in 2009, the play had a successful run in London. When it debuted on Broadway in 2010, Variety magazine called “Enron” “a dazzling piece of entertainment and a gripping cautionary tale about the criminal chicanery that eviscerated the most respected corporate body in America.”

Director Vivian Farahani, who was born in Germany and has lived throughout the world, has a unique perspective from which to direct “Enron.” A family story characterized by migration leads her to ask questions concerning the relationship between culture and behavior. As more and more people in our world live in countries other than the one they were born in, Farahani believes the migrant experience is essential to understanding our global society today.

“I feel a sense of belonging anywhere and nowhere,” she said. “Living in a lot of different places … helps me to see how everyone’s individual history shapes their beliefs and influences what they think is right and wrong.

"Enron" director, Vivien Farahani

"Enron" director, Vivien Farahani

“This play embodies what the American Dream can lead people to do,” said Farahani. “The values of the principals at Enron led them to moral compromise. They became victims of their own hubris and greed, but I feel like they inherited it.”

Farahani is a longtime fan of Prebble, having directed another of her shows, “The Effect,” a study of love and neuroscience, at UNCSA this past February. “Enron” won Prebble an Olivier Award nomination for Best New Play. Since 2018, Prebble has been executive, consulting and co-executive producer and writer on the Emmy Award-winning HBO drama “Succession,” about another company’s crisis.

“I like to ask a lot of questions about how our cultural values influence the individual,” Farahani said. “And about how the greater sociopolitical mechanisms at work in our world today influence our everyday lives and the background against which our lives play out.”

Farahani praised the design team and actors, all who are UNCSA students.

“I’ve got an incredible team of designers. It’s been very collaborative,” she said. “The actors are incredible. We spent a lot of time researching and looking at the 1980s and ’90s. We did tons of movement work. We developed our own physical vocabulary.”

“Enron” rendering by Design and Production student Ben Hirschfield.

“Enron” rendering by Design and Production student Ben Hirschfield.

Fourth-year Drama student Jack Elliott is playing the role of Jeffrey Keith Skilling, who was the CEO of Enron during the scandal. Skilling was convicted of federal felony charges relating to Enron's collapse and sentenced to 24 years in prison. After deals and appeals, he served 12 years.

“With Skilling, in particular, if anybody’s done just a little bit of research into Enron, this guy is unbelievable,” Elliott said. “He’s stone-cold but charming. He has a clear inner and outer life. He’s driven by corporate greed, but he’s also driven by family. It’s easy to mask greed and self-interest with the drive of family and legacy. This show does a great job with that.”

Elliott, who is also a musician-songwriter, is on the stage for nearly the whole show. “I have maybe two exits that are just long enough for a leg stretch and a drink of water,” they said. “It’s a three-act play. Act I is the rise of Skilling, Act II is the fall, and in Act III, you get to see who he is at his lowest point.

“In Act III, we see more about his relationship with his daughter. … His family is very cleverly placed in the show.”

“Enron” rendering by Design and Production student Ben Hirschfield.

“Enron” rendering by Design and Production student Ben Hirschfield.

Elliott said that “Enron” contains universal observations about greed and values. They compared it to “Mother Courage and Her Children,” in which they performed at UNCSA this past spring.

“‘Enron’ does a great job of summarizing a lot of grand ideas, so it’s easy to consume, but … I’m still trying to fully understand what it all means,” they said. “There’s the piece where nothing is ever enough. These people were filthy rich and scamming everybody and paying people with worthless stock.

“It feels like a party that suddenly crashes. It’s high energy and wildly intense. And it’s a lot of fun.” 

About Vivian Farahani

Originally aiming to study politics, Vivian Farahani discovered a passion for storytelling after realizing its ability to compel audiences to reevaluate their perspectives. She fell in love with storytelling in theater and film, and has spent the past seven years acting, designing, managing, producing, writing and directing plays. She was the directing intern on Simon McBurney's “Wozzeck” at the 2023 Festival D'Aix-en-Provence, where she got to experience and participate in a room valuing process-oriented work. Other recent work includes a production of Sophocles' “Antigone” at UNCSA.

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October 11, 2023