Finance has never been my thing. I am like a deer in headlights at the mere mention of business. Ayad Akhtar’s (Disgraced) new play Junk is a fictionalized version of the 1980’s Michael Milken-Ivan Boesky junk bond scandal, where insider trading and the manipulation of the market ran rampant. Here squeezing companies, jobs going down the drain, money and greed are put on display, as we are shown just how much America has lost it’s way.
As the show opens John Lee Beatty’s electronic two tired set comes to life. It is impressive, as Doug Hughes manipulates his 23 member cast into crisp comings and goings. The first act is littered with exposition, but it’s understandable, as most theatre goers do not understand, either the market or what really happens and has been happening. We meet Robert Merkin (Steven Pasquale), who is the prince, if not the king of hostile corporate takeovers. He’s employing a new technique using high-risk debt to destroy the company from the inside out, which is unorthodox and illegal. Having never attacked a NASDAQ company, Merkin goes after one of it’s contenders, a generational family owned Pennsylvania steel company, run by Thomas Everson Jr.(Rick Holmes). What Merkin does is drive up the stock prices, borrowing money to buy them using the company’s own cash flow as collateral. Merkin is a corporate raider, who uses lower level minions to do his bidding and in the end it is his relationship with the shady Boris Pronsky (Joey Slotnick) that does him in.
Everson’s biggest hope against Merkin is Leo Tressler (Michael Siberry), who is able to call the feds on him. Tressler hates the way Merkin is doing business and fears Merkin might soon end up owning everything.
As the story unfolds journalists, lawyers, union workers, clients and all the insider trading components move in and out of the picture. The most interesting political part, was the lawyer running for mayor was obviously Rudy Giuliani, who you may never look at the same way after seeing this.
Act two is a rip roaring, brisk rollercoaster ride, as everyone is exposed and corrupt to some degree. By the end, no-one is actually likable. Those who have heart, cook the books, are anti-semitic or pursue women young enough to be their daughters. Everyone sells out, but the inside working of how the rich manipulate the working class is informative, insightful, if not a little nauseating. You will be talking and thinking about this play long after it is done.
Pasquale, is perfectly cast. His Merkin is a pretty boy who is soulless, but whose mind is so utterly brilliant, that one ponders what could it have accomplished, if only it had only been for the good? Both Michael Siberry and Rick Holmes, turn in performances that are flawless. Two sides of the coin, both these actors manage to make you watch them and with Holmes character actually care about this flawed human being.
Much like Oslo, Junk exposes history in a way that at time is a little too talkie, but offers so much insight.
Junk: Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 West 65th St.