UNC School of the Arts‘ production of Enron by Lucy Prebble whizzed by in a blur of words and numerals as the company’s white-collar criminals razzle-dazzled us with freaky economics legerdemain.

Framed by a monumental and destabilizing set of square concrete-and-exposed-rebar columns, a four-leveled stage, and a tilted backdrop of green glass, the action of the play takes place in Enron‘s Houston offices, but New York’s Ground Zero (the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks) is always close at mind.

Halloween is hard upon us, but you won’t see anything scarier than this cautionary tale of corporate deregulation and capitalism run amok.

Fourth-year Directing Program student Vivian Farahani has directed this production like a pro. She has wrested memorable performances from her cast. And all aspects of design fit together to create one terrifying tale of financial malfeasance: scenic design by Ben Hirschfield, lighting design by Sage Green, costumes by Maki Nikura, wigs and makeup by Teagan Hamel, and sound by Courtney Jones.

The production team has put together a world that contains shadow companies called raptors, pretzel logic, and enough toxic masculinity to fuel a Fight Club 24/7.

The smartest guys in the room are: CEO Jeffrey Skilling, played by Jack Zubieta Elliott; Chairman Ken Lay, played by Jack Eld; CFO Andy Fastow, played by Julian Rees; and Claudia Roe played by Abigail Garcia.

Elliott played Skilling with an exuberant, off-kilter swagger. He is the hub of the wheel around which everything and everybody revolves. We learn his name before he even makes an appearance. An enthusiastic proponent of “mark-to-market” accounting, Skilling amasses millions of dollars for Enron while hiding millions of dollars of debt in “raptor” companies invented by CFO Fastow.

Fastow is portrayed as a kind of henchman to Skilling, a Renfield to Count Dracula, if you will. But Rees played this evil genius working on the fringes of reality with so much charm that I found myself pulling for him against all better judgment and worried about him in the basement with all those raptors (you’ll see). Rees was riveting in the role.

Chairman Lay, the founder of Enron, was friends with politicians, including to the Bush family, Bill Clinton, and Dick Cheney. He greased the skids for Enron’s rise to glory and fall to disgrace and abdicated most of his responsibilities to Skilling. Eld played him with a Jimmy Stewart-like insouciance. He was both louche and self-righteous, seemingly more interested in the upholstery material for the corporate jet than the actual workings of his company.

Garcia was commanding and admirable in the role of Claudia Roe. Roe is a fictional character based on a real Enron executive. She serves as a foil for Skilling, playing Devil’s Advocate to his outrageous and extra-legal business ideas. She is the only character who maintains any kind of moral compass or integrity.

Everyone in the ensemble was as strong as the leads. There were no hesitations, nary a moment that didn’t sizzle with energy and forward velocity. Notable were Isabel Stewart’s portrayal of Skilling’s lawyer, desperate to keep him on track, and all of the athletic and flexible raptors who make strange little chirping and chortling noises, including Sofie Berg, Aidan Roche, Grace Woosley, Yael Jeshion-Nelson, Julia Ott, and Cameron Flurry. Mikenzi Barrow does a great physical-acting turn in the role of Elise Deluka; she also plays a JP Morgan analyst.

If you’re worried about following the financial shenanigans of the plot, here’s a pretty good explainer from the press release:

“Enron Corp., an American energy company, was founded in 1985 following the merger of two companies, Houston Natural Gas Corp. and Inter-North Inc., a Nebraska pipeline company. At the start of 2001, Enron was ranked as the seventh largest publicly listed company in the United States and was called “America’s most innovative company” by Fortune magazine. Nevertheless, the company had incurred mountains of debt and was failing, but its leadership fooled regulators, investors, and creditors with fake holdings and off-the-books accounting practices. The price of Enron’s shares went from $90.75 at its peak to $0.26 in bankruptcy by the end of that year, at the time making it the largest corporate bankruptcy in history.”

Skilling, Fastow, and others went to jail, but thousands of American workers lost their jobs, their companies, and their savings, while the millionaire perpetrators waltzed off with millions. At one point, Enron was responsible for the rolling blackouts in California that shut down power plants and cost people’s lives.

The show had its premiere in Chichester, England, in 2009, followed by a successful run in London. When it debuted on Broadway in 2010, Variety magazine called Enron “a dazzling piece of entertainment and a gripping cautionary tale about the criminal chicanery that eviscerated the most respected corporate body in America.”

But other New York critics were not so enthusiastic, and Enron closed after 15 performances on Broadway. I’m inclined to think that if Broadway audiences had seen the UNCSA production, it would still be running. The Schools of Drama and Design and Production have made an extraordinary work of theatre that I expect will haunt me for a long, long time.

Enron continues through Saturday, November 4. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.