San Diego, CA—It only took insurance conglomerate AIG eight years after the fall of Enron to defraud it’s shareholders and the government.
History will show that Enron went into a death spiral in 2001 because of massive accounting fraud and for trading esoteric (obscure, obtuse, mysterious) derivatives (offshoots, spinoffs, byproducts).
Enron founder Ken Lay, executive Jeffrey Skilling and money wiz and CFO Andy Fastow were given jail sentences because their duplicitous business practices were finally exposed as to what they were, crooked. Enron’s Lay claimed ignorance (if that’s a legal defense).
Mark C. Petrich plays Lay with a low-keyed, southern comfort irony – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil- perfection. In some ways it was almost difficult to see him as a player, but we soon learn that he never hesitated to use his influence and money to get to both President Clinton and Bush in his quest for deregulating the SEC.
Fastow cooperated with the Gov’t. and got a lighter sentence because of it and Lay died of a heart attack while on vacation in Colorado three months before his sentencing was scheduled. Skilling served about 14 years (not long enough) and later had some time reduced from his original 24-year sentence.
AIG, history will show, was trading in exotic (unusual, bizarre, mysterious) derivatives.
Note any similarities?
Bottom line, both companies had crooks/schemers/scoundrels willing to put financial gain ahead of ethics but that’s for a latter discussion.
Both or all…and there are others like WorldCom in 2002, Blockbuster in 2013, American Apparel in 2014 (for ethical lapses), screwed their shareholders, the government and taxpayers (the bailout for AIG equaled $182.3 billion) big time; some paid with prison, as in Enron but those at AIG went on thumbing its proverbial noses at the government and continued to pay their executives enormous bonuses, while in all cases the shareholders lost.
AIG executives never served a day in jail because the DOJ did not file criminal charges. AIG… well, as you can see, “We the people” bailed the crooks out because according to the powers that be, they were too big to fail, and Enron is a footnote. What a difference a day makes!
Now in a telling and pretty comprehensive re-live of Enron’s (debacle) rise from power, money and corruption to the crash landing with handcuffs, bankruptcy and jail playwright Lucy Prebble’s simple, one word title “Enron” is being given a classy, fast paced and pot boiling production at Moxie Theatre under the deft direction of Jennifer Eve Thorn. It plays through Dec. 7th and is thoroughly engrossing. Prebble also penned “Sugar Syndrome” seen at Moxie in 2009.
With a well oiled (no pun intended) cast of twelve, some playing multiple roles, “Enron” unfolds at a celebratory party as we meet newcomer Jeffrey Skilling (Max Macke) whose goal is to sell his idea, ‘Mark to Market’, to Lay and Lay to the SEC. He is also hell bent on securing a place for himself at the Enron table.
Skilling’s plan, to be honest it all sounds like mumbo-jumbo to me, is in essence “The accounting act of recording the price or value of a security, portfolio or account to reflect its current market value rather that its book value” (Investopedia). See what I mean?
For Skilling it was do or die. If he couldn’t sell Lay on the idea he was willing to walk. Perseverance prevailed as he managed to push out next in line for company promotion, Claudia Roe (beautifully played by Lisel Gorell-Getz), on his well-calculated rise to the top as Lay bought into the idea hook, line and sinker. “We send energy through the air in nothing but numbers”.
We’re not talking about MR. Nice Guy here. Skilling, as his namesake shows, was a skilled manipulator and Macke makes the best of it as he makes his way to the top stepping over, sleeping with and manipulating anyone and everyone in his path. Macke does it with confidence and aplomb.
From his ill fitting beige slacks at the top of the show to his tailored form fitting suits on his rise to power, he carries the assurance of a successful, no worries con man, and he does it to perfection. Credit Jennifer Braun Gittings for the costume designs. (Clothes do make the man.)
Eddie Yaroch, who appears as odd man out at this party, manages to nudge his expertise at playing a numbers game into Skilling’s mind set, becomes the ideal idea man for Skilling. “This guy gets it”. Yaroch, with his hair almost standing on end, looks like a mad scientist but don’t be misled, he was the brains behind the operation. Skilling had the chutzpah, Fastow, the brains.
Fastow, like his namesake was also on the Enron fast track. Yaroch, a favorite of mine seems to have found his niche as Fastow who relishes his games of hide and seek with joyful cunning, buries himself deep in the bowels of the Enron building. It is here that he plays his numbers game ready and waiting for the next shoe to fall. He is surrounded with his friends (the Raptors or SPE’s), “financial models I’m /working… a way of managing risk…just playing with them.”
Later on as the company gets deeper in debt Fastow shows Skilling how he can manipulate the numbers by setting up shadow companies or secret non existing companies, that live only to fulfill Enron’s needs by hiding its losses or ‘offloading’. He cleverly uses a ‘box trick’ to explain so even I understood.
Skilling, impressed by Fastow’s thinking and maneuverability promoted him to CFO and it was game on until Enron’s stock went from $90.00 a share to 40 cents, was thirty billion in debt, and 20,000 employees that were encouraged to invest their retirement savings in Enron stock, lost their jobs and ended up with minus in their retirement funds. Conversely Skilling, Fastow and the rest of the executives at Enron had sold their shares early on and made out like…well, bandits!
Adding insult to injury California went through a series of rolling blackouts because of Enron’s manipulating the markets. Back in 2000-2001 it never entered my psyche that one was related to the other.
Years before I had been to Houston to visit my brother and saw for myself the mark Enron left in Houston taking over downtown blocks of property with their logo affixed, in gigantic and bold letters, on multiple building structures. All around construction was in the works; Houston was booming.
Thorn and her competent cast move the story fluidly from comical beginnings with characters supposed to represent the board dressed like Three Blind Mice, to the Lehmann Brothers literally attached at the hip while their demise, as they propped Enron up to make them look good, was slowly playing out.
Emily Smith’s Raptor’s (SPE’S) creations with orange neon eyed creatures slithering around Fastow are awesome. A puppet show of sorts operated by Holding Company Executive Arthur Andersen (Alexander Guzman in one of many roles) who later lost his license and business for criminal tax practices in dealing with Enron as the country tragically suffered at their expense.
Five actors (James P. Darvas, JoAnne Glover, Don Evans, Alexander Guzman, Robert Kirk) act as traders rap dancing to the market’s mantra (credit Javier Velasco) in perfect step. (Gold. Up Twenty-Three. Aluminum. Down One. Natural Gas Up Five Seventy-one. Orange Juice. Down Fourteen. ‘Speculation confirmed’). And so it went.
Played out on Moxie’s revolving, three paneled stage (Tim Nottage) along with his great projections going back in history (both Bushes, Clinton, Alan Greenspan,) tracing the powerful struggles to deregulate the SEC., with TV interviews and reporters asking questions that could not be answered, or that were fabricated to make the company look good, Moxie has scored a ten again for vigilance in bringing new works from young playwrights with stories worth telling, to tell.
Roe, who was later let go by Skilling/Lay was, in retrospect, better off than most; she left before the you know what hit the fan.
In another story worth noting, Andy Fastow former CFO of Enron will be the third speaker in a panel discussion at the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at the University of New Mexico. The topic: “Rules vs. Principals”. Fastow has been speaking at organizations across the country on the importance of principals ‘in establishing an ethical organizational culture…’
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Dec. 7th
Organization: Moxie Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego, CA 92115
Ticket Prices: start at $27.00