LCT’s Junk: Lots of Money Spent on Some Good Junk.
This is a story of Kings, or so we are told. But not the kind of Kings that we would look up to with respect. Definitely not noble ones or gracious ones, because Junk, the new play by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and novelist, Ayad Akhtar (The Invisible Hand, LCT3’s The Who & The What) is delivering to us a different kind of type of King, one that is all about greed and power. Playing it pretty close to the rise and fall of supertrader Michael Milken, the ‘Junk Bond King’ (of which I know so little about, by design) and emphasizing the ‘greed is good’ mantra of Wall Street in the 1980’s, this royal court, while not lacking in drama and intrigue, has discarded almost all the qualities of ‘doing good’ and ‘being honest’ for the darker shades of duplicity, lies, and betrayal.
The writing borders on Shakespearean in its decidedly Machiavellian discontent. It’s expansive in its dense storytelling, complex in its plot, and concise in its structure. The production reeks of money well spent in its huge cast and stylistic design. It does seem to lack a certain upending of societal stereotypes that I expected from the man who brought us the complicated and curvy Disgraced. In that play, there were numerous shades of grey and nothing resembled their face value. Here, in Junk, the villains are plentiful but obvious and even the saviors compromised or destructive. Maybe you could say that in this tale of greed, we are given varying shades of black, with not a lot of differing tonal quality to look at.
The play, as directed by the always solid Doug Hughes (The Father) is crisp and precise. The whole cast of characters that surrounded Milken back in 1989 when he was indicted for racketeering and securities fraud have been assembled on this glistening stage by Akhtar, with slight name changes but sticking fairly close to the raw and dark material. Instead of Milken, we have the magnetic Steven Pasquale (Encores’ Assassins, The Robber Bridegroom) portraying ‘Junk Bond King’, Robert Merkin with a cocky arrogance that works amazingly well. In the same manner, we have stand-ins for mayor-to-be Rudolph Giuliani, namely Giuseppe Addesso (Charlie Semine), and the infamous stock trader Ivan Boesky in the form of Joey Slotnick (Broadway’s The Front Page) as Boris Pronsky.
The pack of royal hanger-ons is filled out with a female reporter, Judy Chen, played by Teresa Avia Lim (PR’s The Moors) trying to shine a bright and accusatory light on the corruption of Merkin’s Junk world, a wealthy old-school trader Leo Tresler, a nuanced Michael Siberry (Broadway’s Spamalot) who finds Merkin so distasteful that he will stop at almost nothing to ruin his deal, a not-to-be trusted shady but smart lawyer, Raúl Rivera, played by Matthew Saldivar (NYTW’s Hadestown), and a loud-mouthed cocky Isreal Peterman (Matthew Rauch).
Closest to being the good guys, is the branch that makes up the Steel corporation at the center of this deal: Thomas Everson, Jr, played earnestly and tragically by Rick Holmes (Broadway’s The Visit), his faithful lawyer Maximilien Cizik (Henry Stram), and the more complex Jacqueline Blount, played with cunning and duplicity by Ito Aghayere (PH’s Familiar). It’s a huge cast of professionals, working their magic on us, telling us this convoluted tale of shysters and criminals in very nice suits in a straight forward manner, in a way almost too well and too straight. (for the full review, click here)
JUNK, Joey Slotnick (center). Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson