Theater review by Adam Feldman
Money talks, but in Ayad Akhtar’s trenchant Junk, people do plenty of talking for it. The playwright has a lot of explaining to do: His subject is the carnivore capitalism of 1980s Wall Street, and he spends much of the play briefing the audience on hostile takeovers and insider trading. But the details don’t feel sweaty. Staged by Doug Hughes for Lincoln Center Theater, whose taste for quasidocumentary epics was also evinced in last season’s Oslo, Junk melds a breadth of genres—crime story, tragedy, issue play, cautionary tale—into a fast-moving, broad-ranging social thriller.
In the middle of the action is the ruthlessly inventive corporate raider Robert Merkin (Steven Pasquale, chilling), who is equal parts shark and tank. He and his mostly Jewish associates—played by fine actors including Matthew Rauch, Joey Slotnick and Matthew Saldivar—see themselves as correctives to the weak leaders of old-money companies: blow-dried heirs to the firms their grandfathers built, like soft steel-company head Thomas Everson (Rick Holmes). “It’s David against Goliath,” says an outraged white-shoe rival (the excellent Michael Siberry). “The only way David wins? Breaking the rules.”
In Akhtar’s telling, this story is partly about male status and power: Who has the biggest junk? But it’s also about race, privilege, competing ideals and, of course, greed. Junk has a cast of 23, and the size of the production helps it cast a wide net of blame. From the crooked financiers to a prosecutor with mayoral ambitions to a muckraking journalist to the union members of an endangered mill, everyone is trying to climb the same pole, and all of them have grease on their hands.
Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center (Broadway). By Ayad Akhtar. Directed by Doug Hughes. With ensemble cast. running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. Through Jan 7.