There is a moment in “Junk” when the protagonist investment banker Robert “Bob” Merkin praises the idea of debt as a simple promise to pay, trying to convince journalist Judy Chen that “Debt is the nothing that gives birth to everything.” It is this premise that drives the seedy undertones of the riveting play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar.
‘Junk’ definitely keeps everyone in suspense, as the audience tries to keep up with the fast pace and figure out who’s going to do down…
Directed by Jackie Maxwell and presented in the round on the Fichlander Stage of Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, “Junk” is a slick throwback to the excess of the eighties where risky bonds, corporate buyouts and insider trading ruled the decade.
At the center of all the mayhem is Merkin, played by a dapper and smooth Thomas Keegan, who does an exceptional job of portraying the clever, calculating man of finance. He has much of the same in his inner circle with fast-talking Raul Rivera portrayed by the forceful Perry Young, and intense Israel “Izzy Peterman played by Jonathan David Martin, as well as the burly Boris Pronsky played by Elan Zafir, doing deals on the down low. A more stable figure is wife Amy Merkin, effortlessly played by Shanara Gabrielle, who is an intellectual counterpart and voice of reason to her husband.
“Junk” features a large talented cast, who all play a significant role in the progression of the story. On the other end of the spectrum is the hopeful and endearing Thomas Everson, Jr, played by Edward Gero, whose performance as the CEO of Everson Steel, the company Merkin and friends are trying to take over, earns plenty of empathy from onlookers.
Meanwhile, there are quite a few people who have it out for Merkin, a.k.a. “America’s Alchemist” and Time Magazine poster boy such as Leo Tressler, a financial titan deftly played by David Andrew Macdonald, and Tressler’s part-time lover, investigative journalist Judy Chen, whose character is full of wit and bite courtesy of Nancy Sun. No drama about downfall is complete without hardworking law enforcement and power hungry civil servants. Enter agent Kevin Walsh effectively played by Jaben Early and U.S. Attorney General Giuseppe Addesso, portrayed by Nicholas Baroudi with finesse. There’s also Everson’s right-hand advisers, Maximillien Cizik, played by a sharp Lise Bruneau and Jacqueline Blount, whose Kayshna Johnson is enjoyable to watch as she straddles between attorney and informant.
Aesthetically, “Junk” boasts a cool, steely feel reminiscent of its time with sparse staging, a sense of urgency in its flow, power suits, and dim lights. The creative team which includes Set Designer Misha Kachman, Costume Designer Judith Bowden, Sound Designer Darron L West and Fight Director Lewis Shaw all deserve credit for getting it right.
From beginning to end, “Junk” definitely keeps everyone in suspense, as the audience tries to keep up with the fast pace and figure out who’s going to do down in this phenomenal story about value and values.
Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission.
“Junk” runs through May 5 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theatre. For tickets and information about other upcoming productions, visit here.