Friday, May 7, 2010

Questioning your Unthinking Faith in Capitalism: ENRON, The Play by Lucy Prebbles

So I went to see this play the night before the UK descended into chaos and instability, i.e., last night and I haven't been so happy with a play in a VERY long time. Maybe August: Osage County made me that happy. The Sociable Plover was great last summer.

This play is not perfect. It starts a little slow and ends a little bombastically. Some of the characters don't really go anywhere (I'm looking at you, Claudia Roe) but it sparkles with insight and it breathes the fire of events of a decade ago better than anyone has ever done it theatrically. Yes, you read that correctly, New York Times!

The NYT gave Enron a kind of hostil review and it is closing a week into the run in New York.

This is a travesty. The NYT made a mistake. They make very few but this is one of them. I should start a futile Facebook group entitled Bring Enron Back to New York. I will the day my 16 month old daughter turns 18. Just wait until then.

In the meantime there are just these seventeen minutes between completing a draft contract and jumping on my bicycle to go pick up my kids from school, so I will try to be as efficient as possible.

The play is big, visual, inventive, true, accurate, theatrical and thought-provoking.

I hate agreeing with the Guardian because the institution is terminally smug but they are right. Enron is closing because people from one culture close ranks when they are criticised by an outsider. No American wants to hear Jamie Oliver tell us that our children's eating habits are lousy. We would rather embrace the eating habits than defer to outsider criticism. Same with the play. Every culture does this, but it's kind of stupid and it needs to stop. The merits of the message are the merits of the message, the art is the art, no matter who it comes from.

So what is great about Enron the play, the artistry was the unerring vision of the fall of the U.S. -through 9/11, through Enron, through the awful time of the 2000 election. That is not to say this is about the failure of the United States. We fell, we are getting up again, but we fell. The Brits fell pretty far as well and farther in some respects.

The chronicling of Enron begins shortly after Jeff Skilling is hired and ends after he is in jail. The play has songs and is massively physical. The psychosis of the trading floor, the frenzy around the millenium, done in startlingly physical set pieces. The board of directors are three men in suits with giant white mice heads. The corporate forms for the hiding of losses are velociraptors in suits. The accountant, Arthur Anderson is a disturbing ventriloquist act and the lawyers all had their eyes duct taped shut. The Lehman Brothers are comic conjoined twins (I am NEVER a fan of conjoined twin comedy so this didn't work for me but the others are phenomenal).

But the playwright shows unabashed empathy and admiration for the inventive genius of these guys. There is a lot of affection and admiration for the way humans are. Don't think that the piece is anti-American.


Seeing this play on UK election night when the main issue (to me) is financial regulatory reform was mindblowing. Because Enron really asks whether capitalism is compatible with humanity. I realize that even asking that question makes me a communist in Sarah Palin's America but I don't care. I can be an American and ask myself why we are blinded by faith in unfettered capitalism.

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in very much but I really don't believe that the means of creation and distribution of goods should be controlled by the government. No. but actually, between the government and private corporations, I'll just take the one that isn't susceptible to corruption.

And I'll take an even bigger step back than that. What that play brought home to me was the world of business reporting, stock analysts, trading, derivatives, lawyers, accountants: we are all just propping up a stock market: a market that does not make anything, but just bets on the future of others. How did we let such a big proportion of our economy and our best and brightest embroiled in something so counterproductive for humankind? Stocks don't do anything but make some people money and lose some people money. We have bigger fish to fry here in 2010. We need to allocate jobs that do something for the world: poverty, ecology, equality. Because as you can see in the play, the almighty stock price is the most powerful force in America. And that is heartbreaking. So we shoot the messenger by sending the play Enron back to the UK.

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