If you principally enjoyed the movie The Big Short but thought it had too much humor and heart, Junk might be the play for you. The ripped-from-the-headlines drama by Ayad Akhtar is a work of fiction illustrating the exploitative practice that blossomed in 1985 of making debt an asset. Akhtar’s dialogue is precise and natural and, when not bogged down by the essential vocabulary lesson, the 150 minutes pass swiftly. But the experience is rather like a tasty dish that’s been added to the buffet table after you’ve already loaded your plate three times. One only has to follow Twitter for five minutes to be reminded that the world is full of ultra wealthy predators. There simply isn’t room for any more in our collective bellies.
The quality of the acting throughout the piece is uniformly high. The large dynamic cast is led by suave Steven Pasquale. He’s silky smooth as power deal-maker and recent Time Magazine Cover Boy Robert Merkin. Merkin is in the process of orchestrating the take-over of a family owned steel company and has obviously misplaced his soul several hundred million dollars ago. He’s on a mission to reshape the world and won’t let anyone or anything dim his vision.
Having a cold-hearted manipulator at the center of the story would be thrilling if he weren’t surrounded by characters who are for the most part just as dislikable. There is the captivating Ito Aghayere as Jacqueline Blount, a woman whose only loyalty is to herself. Elegant Teresa Via Lim’s self-accepting Judy Chen who would fornicate with a dollar if she could figure out how. Even would-be white knight Leo Tresler played with bluster and a hint of insecurity by Michael Sieberry tramples all over his own code of ethics. Miriam Silverman is the closest thing you’ll find to a hero as she finds strength and avoids shrillness in the tricky role of Merkin’s wife Amy.
Director Doug Hughes does his usual brilliant job of bringing out the best in each performance and every beat. John Lee Beatty’s clever set of sliding platforms and illuminated doorways works well to define the space. However, the essential projections created by 59 Productions are hard to see from the sides of the three-quarter round theater. And the original music by Mark Bennett was sometimes so faint, it seemed to be seeping in from another room.
That “everything has a price” — including salvation — is not a new revelation. If somehow you have not had your fill of this theme, then seek out a ticket to this well played production at the Vivian Beaumont. Tickets for Junk are available at http://www.lct.org/shows/junk/ through January 7, 2018.