Ayad Akhtar’s first Broadway play, 2014’s Disgraced, was a taut and blistering look at the Muslim-American experience that deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize. Which makesJunk, his follow-up about 1980s financial malfeasance, such a disappointment. A sprawling, dramatically flat look at a Wall Street whiz plotting a hostile takeover of a company, it lacks both rich characters and compelling story, adding to an already bearish Broadway season.
Steven Pasquale leads a cast of 23 in Doug Hughes’s sharply staged and designed production. Pasquale plays investment banker Robert Merkin, who’s made millions by using debt as a means to take over companies. As the play begins, he’s plotting with Israel Peterman (Matthew Rauch) to wrest the business that for decades has been in the family of Thomas Everson Jr. (Rick Holmes) from him. Merkin is making a name for himself in the financial biz — we’re told on more than one occasion that he was on the cover of Time magazine — and over two and a half hours Akhtar introduces us to a plethora of characters, from an enterprising reporter (Teresa Avia Lim) to an ambitious prosecutor (Charlie Semine) and chronicles the worship of money for money’s sake that drove the ‘80s financial sector and hasn’t abated in the decades since.
It’s not so much that the characters are unsympathetic, it’s that they’re woefully underdeveloped. We only get a sense of who these people are in certain scenes, such as one where Merkin and Peterman look out over West Los Angeles and imagine how much it would cost to buy. Akhtar includes reasons for Merkin’s endless greed — the anti-Semitism that prevented his father from advancing — but it’s not enough to give this play or these characters much dimension.
Akhtar does have an insider’s knowledge of the Wall Street world, and Junk explains to those of us without MBAs the way a company takeover can happen. But we’ve seen this saga play out in movies like Wall Street, and Akhtar doesn’t deepen our understanding of these Lords of Greed.
By Diane Snyder
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Steven Pasquale, Ito Aghayere, Phillip James Brannon, Tony Carlin, Caroline Hewitt, Rick Holmes, Ted Koch, Teresa Avia Lim, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Nate Miller, Ethan Phillips, Matthew Rauch, Matthew Saldivar, Michael Siberry, Miriam Silverman, Joey Slotnick, Henry Stram
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 10/5/2017
Vivian Beaumont Theater
150 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023