One Man’s JUNK Is Another Man’s Treasure

WHO:

  • Ayad Akhtar (Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of Disgraced);
  • Doug Hughes (Tony Award-winning director of Doubt);
  • Steven Pasquale (Broadway: The Bridges of Madison County; Off-Broadway: The Robber Bridegroom, TV: The Good Wife, American Crime Story: The People v O. J. Simpson);
  • Joey Slotnick (TV: The Good Wife, Nip/Tuck, Alias)

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WHAT: Set in the 1980s, this fast-paced play dives into some of the brightest (and vilest) in the financial world that exploited junk bonds (some sort of useless piece of paper that is never coherently defined in the play) and the repercussions of their high-risk deal making. Financier Robert Merkin (Pasquale) is our anti-hero who is dead-set on taking over a manufacturing empire that was founded on the quintessential American industry: steel. He manipulates the market, the buyer, and the head of
the generations-old steel company Everson Steel. His actions lead to an all-out war (with Shakespearean undertones) between him and Everson. And all the while, the FBI is closing in on Merkin’s empire.

WHY: Why, indeed? The show is itself is captivating. Every actor delivers a solid performance (even when you can barely hear Teresa Avia Lim’s line delivery as hard-hitting journalist Judy Chen). The stark stage (by John Lee Beatty), comprised of two rows of four boxes, keeps focus on the quick-moving set and story changes as we bounce around the United States watching this drama unfold. And Akhtar’s play does a mostly good job of explaining to the audience how exactly these characters are manipulating not only each other but also the stock market itself (although my eyes glazed over more than once during some of these discussions). He also sets up an intriguing dichotomy of the American Dream between Everson (Rick Holmes) clinging to old-fashioned ideals and Merkin trying to manipulate the system to achieve his dreams.

But why this play? That it is entertaining, I will certainly allow. By the end of act one I was rooting for the rest of the play to just continue. That I felt emotionally invested in the characters and their comeuppances cannot be doubted either (at least in the moment). But after leaving the theatre and returning to the real world, I found that the show quickly disappeared from my mind. I was quick to forget any finance mumbo jumbo I had heard and found that I didn’t really get anything lasting out of the play. I had an enjoyable evening puttering around Lincoln Center and enjoying the thrills of this well-done production. But Junk is hardly a play worth revisiting or recommending (but if you can see it for free, why not?).

WHERE: The Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center

WHEN: Opened on November 2nd; Closing date is January 7th

BONUS PAIRINGS:

  • The Big Short (2015)
  • American Psycho (either the 1991 book or the 2000 film…or, if you’re feeling extra nerdy, explore the 2013 London musical)
  • a double pour of scotch (to numb you to the dark look into the financial world)

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