A Night with Shirley Jackson

I’d seen somewhere on the Internets that Paul Giamatti (far right), along with (from L-R) Cristin Milioti, Dana Ivey, and Stephen Kunken, were participating in a night of reading short stories by the late writer Shirley Jackson in honor of her 100th birthday. I literally had no idea who Shirley Jackson was, but my dude had just finished watching the John Adams series on HBO and loved Paul Giamatti so I bought two tickets. 

We ended up hearing five short stories from the group (one was read by the host, whose name I forget at this moment) and they were all pretty good. The story Ivey read was kind of long and I don’t really remember what it was about. Jackson was a dark writer, sometimes very cryptic. Usually cryptically funny though. 

Giamatti’s story was probably the more eerie. Milioti, Ivey, Kunken, as well as Giamatti all told the stories with the flare that only stage actors can provide. It was a really different type of night, one that I’m glad we went to.

It’s dreadful that ENRON is closing on Sunday night, and I am completely grateful for being able to say that I’m one of the 25 people who have seen it on Broadway have seen it in its short life.  (ENRON opened on April 27th and is closing this Sunday, May 9th due in part to a snubbing by the TONY committee and not receiving a nod for Best Play).  There are 38 producers and one associate producer that are losing money.)  

ENRON is one of those plays, if you’re a theatre person, that you HAVE to see just for the experience (and educational background, while you’re at all).  It’s a whole new approach to your typical boring, dramatic play.  Also, TONY winner Norbert Leo Butz is excellent, as always, in the lead role of former ENRON CEO, Jeffrey Skilling.  Stephen Kunken, as former ENRON CFO Andy Fastow, also does a good job in his role – though I’m still uncertain whether or not it was worthy of a TONY nod (it should’ve been Norbert Leo Butz being nominated, IMO).  Also worthy of mention is Gregory Itzin who plays Kenneth Lay, ENRON founder. 

Learning about the creation of ENRON was certainly interesting considering that I was probably 13 (maybe younger) when it was in it’s heyday and 15 when it collapsed, so I knew little-to-nothing about the catastrophe except that the Bush administration helped them out through de-regulation (whatever that meant to me at 15, which was probably very little).  From what I could gather, ENRON was an extremely innovative company, hiring the smartest people they could find, developing all sorts of crazy things (movies-on-demand, omg!), and not only supplying but trading energy.  They encouraged their employees to invest in their company, invest their retirement fund in their company as well as paying them in company stock.  It was ENRON’s idea that if you’re invested in the company you’re working for, you’re investing in yourself.  After that, they created a company (called LJM) that was 97% funded by ENRON and 3% funded from elsewhere (and of that 3%, ENRON was investing 97%, and somebody else was investing the last 3%, and of that 3%… and so on and so forth) making it a legitimate separate company and easy to get around legal and accounting red tape.  

They were, basically, hedging against themselves making it impossible to fail.  During ENRON’s peak, Jeffrey Skilling was said to be worth $60 billion.  Skilling didn’t believe that ENRON needed to have any visible assets (he didn’t believe in them – unlike Claudia Roe [played by Marin Mazzie] whose oil plant in Dubai would end up being the most profitable thing about ENRON because it was an asset “you could see,” says Mazzie at the end of the show).  I’m not sure I completely understand exactly what ENRON did, but after last night, I can assure you that I’m a LOT closer.

But history aside, let’s talk about the play.  The set is very minimal except for a handful of luminous pipes that are raised and lowered as needed as well as a raised platform behind a scrim.  This is a play with music, it is not a musical, which I had never seen before last night.  The Star Spangled Banner is sung twice, and one other song, written for the show, is sung.  The lighting is unbelievable, as are the projections.  I viewed the show from the front mezzanine which I think was the ideal place to view the show because of all the lighting tricks (stunts is maybe a better word) that were being being used.

To say I’ve never seen anything like ENRON is an gross understatement.  To say that you’re not going (if you’re in NY) to try to see one of its last four performances this weekend is a pity and a shame.  GO!

(Read more about Enron, the company, here.)

(photo via)