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Invest your time in TimeLine’s scorching production of ‘Enron’



◆ Through April 15

◆ TimeLine Theatre,
615 W. Wellington

◆ Tickets, $32-$42

◆ (773) 281-8463;


Updated: March 3, 2012 8:31AM

So many hot properties and astonishing productions are now competing for pride of place on Chicago stages that a Top 10 list would not be able to accommodate them. Which brings me to “Enron,” now receiving a volcanic Chicago debut at TimeLine Theatre.

This show should be mandatory viewing for anyone concerned about the economic, political, moral, social and mental health of this country, as well as our sprawling network of global connections and that globe’s impossibly tangled web of virtual transactions. While that might sound too daunting and cerebrally challenging for an evening out, rest assured that “Enron” is every bit as entertaining as it is riveting. It will keep you enthralled from the very first chant of “Blind!” (to which you will certainly add the word “willfully,” as you watch Three Blind Mice scurry around the stage), to a corporate executive’s final denial of guilt (which might well prompt the response: “Liar!”).

This explosive, Brechtian-charged, vaudeville-style documentary in the form of a killer contemporary panto is the work of a hugely talented young British writer, Lucy Prebble. A big hit in London in 2009, her play fared less well on Broadway for some reason. But the TimeLine edition, with knockout direction and choreography by Rachel Rockwell, is phenomenal. And it should unquestionably send the “stock price” for Rockwell’s exceptional talents (already showcased in a slew of Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre musicals, from “Ragtime” to “The Sound of Music”), soaring higher and wider.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the story of “Enron,” which many might think of as the canary in the coal mine of our current economic malaise. Before Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and the enduring mortgage meltdown, and the too-big-to-fail banking bailouts, and the implosion of Lehman Brothers, and the daunting euro crisis, there was the gargantuan bankruptcy of that Houston, Texas-based “energy company” that, throughout the 1990s, skyrocketed on such notions as hedging, on a new accounting game known as “mark-to-market,” on dealing in derivatives, and ultimately on selling a bill of often wholly virtual goods to a vast number of the easily wheeled and dealed, as well as the deeply uninformed. Among the many true-believer investors who lost all were Enron’s 20,000 employees who were encouraged to buy stock in their own company, and who lost their pensions and far more in the end.

Of course by 2001, shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Enron’s vast tower of multibillion-dollar deceit also came crashing down, with its principal players eventually hauled into court. They included: the prayer-and-politics-peddling CEO, Ken Lay (a spot-on folksy turn by Terry Hamilton); the ruthless but brilliant mastermind COO, Jeffrey Skilling (Bret Tuomi in a marvelously shrewd and sweaty turn), and the fawning, ambitious, ever-ingenious boy wonder, Andrew Fastow (Sean Fortunato, uncanny in this latest of many sensational recent performances), who fed the Enron beast with his debt-devouring Raptor companies (three of which do a dance of death in their giant masked heads). Only Claudia Roe, Skilling’s brash, blond, power-and-desktop sex rival — based on CEO Rebecca Mark and played with monstrous bite by Amy Matheny — cashed in before she got burned.

The pit traders are played like mad dogs; the Lehman Brothers arrive as conjoined twins; the forces of justice are notably blind; the financial analysts, lawyers, reporters and iconic accounting firm Arthur Andersen are wholly malleable (and more). Everyone is ultimately double-dealing, insanely desperate, outright lying-and-denying and ruined. Only the large, expertly “choreographed” TimeLine cast, which also includes Christopher Allen, Bear Bellinger, Elizabeth Dowling, Sean Patrick Fawcett, Mark D. Hines, Matt Holzfiend, Barbara Roeder Harris, Benjamin Sprunger and Demetria Thomas, is on the money.

“Why?,” is the continual question asked by Skilling’s tiny, wide-eyed daughter (the adorable Caroline Heffernan) in Mike Tutaj’s video segment for the production, in which her dad tries to explain money and business.

The question YOU might ask as you leave the theater, especially after Prebble reminds us that all the same practices that brought Enron down are still going on, is: “How can that possibly be?” You might then run home and put any remaining cash you possess in a steel lockbox chained to your bed.

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