At the beginning of British playwright Lucy Prebble’s “Enron” — onstage in an OpenTab Productions presentation — the major players in that great corporate debacle of the early 21st century gather at a reception. They are: Kenneth Lay (known as “Kenny-Boy” to George W. Bush), CEO of the Houston-based energy company; President Jeffrey Skilling; and soon-to-be Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow.
There’s also a fictional executive named Claudia, and others. Some are meeting each other for the first time.
At the end of the play, after Enron has gone bankrupt, we watch the federal trial of the three men who conspired to profit mightily by creating a non-existent “shadow company” at the expense of just about everyone.
It’s a big hunk of recent history to take on — too big, really – and playwright Prebble does her best to make it theatrical and entertaining.
There are scenes with characters as sock puppets. On an upstage screen, we watch news clips from the era (“I did not have sex with that woman!”). The Lehman Brothers appear as a pair of obsequious conjoined twins. Rapacious mechanical wolves with gleaming colored eyes lurk and growl, fed money by a sweating, crazed Fastow.
We even get to watch Skilling banging Claudia on an office desk in a distasteful, nonerotic scene.
Various minor characters occasionally narrate the proceedings, and the principals, too, have their direct-address moments in the spotlight.
The OpenTab production, seen at the final preview, certainly bristles with energy and the desire to amuse.
Central character Skilling, as portrayed by Alex Plant, is a satisfyingly nasty piece of work, a master manipulator.
Grey Wolf, a Jerry Brown look-alike, makes a weaker impression as the late Lay, delivering his lines in an unconvincing Southern accent.
But Nathan Tucker gives eager acolyte Fastow an air of desperation that initially seems too comical but soon enough becomes almost frightening, as Fastow completely loses, as he says in court, his moral compass. And Laurie Burke’s an effectively focused Claudia.
Director Ben Euphrat works hard to meet Prebble’s conceptual demands, but the mix of realism and absurdism (the board of directors are tiny mice finger puppets), and juxtaposition of serious characters with over-the-top caricatures, feels awkward.
Within the wildly eclectic stylistic mishmash, nothing seems quite real even when it is. There’s a noisy, chaotic busyness on the part of all concerned that undermines this grim story of modern-day greed and corruption.
Presented by OpenTab Productions
Where: Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; closes Aug. 17