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Review: ‘Junk’ Should Be A Lot More Messy


By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, November 3, 2017

Ayad Akhtar’s 2013 play Disgraced garnered fine reviews and a Pulitzer for its nuanced exploration of racial and religious divides. It offered complex characters, cracklingly good dialogue, and more than a few surprises.

I wish I could say the same about Junk, Akhtar’s latest, now at the Vivian Beaumont. The only thing risky about this play is its title.

The production is awesomely slick, with shiny black two-tiered sets by John Lee Beatty and crisp direction by Doug Hughes. Set in 1985, the story is based on the notorious Michael Milken, who developed the junk bond market. Robert Merkin, as he is called here, played by a whittled Steven Pasquale, is knife sharp. Everything about him feels like a blade, from his handsome suits to his rat-a-tat speech to his coiled energy. The character doesn’t offer a whole lot of range, but Pasquale runs the gamut, from A for anger to B for brutality.

Steven Pasquale in 'Junk;' photo: T Charles Erickson.

Steven Pasquale in ‘Junk;’ photo: T Charles Erickson.

The plot is easy to follow for those of us who have seen Pretty Woman one or two or fifteen times. And what goes outside the boundaries of that movie (a total financial education for some of us), Akhtar fills in adroitly. Richard Gere, I mean, Robert Merkin, has set his sights on a steel company with a well-intentioned but failing CEO played by Ralph Bellamy, I mean, Rick Holmes.

The drama is brisk, but chilly, and entertaining…enough. The play’s title promises the rich disorder of human life. But in the end, it’s all too tame and tidy.

A scene from 'Junk;' photo: T Charles Erickson.

A scene from ‘Junk;’ photo: T Charles Erickson.




Junk presented by Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 West 65th Street, through January 7, 2018. Run time is two and a half hours with one intermission. Written by Ayad Akhtar. Directed by Doug Hughes; scenic design by John Lee Beatty; costume design by Catherine Zuber; lighting design by Ben Stanton; original music and sound Mark Bennett; projections by 59 Productions; movement coach: Sigrid Reisenberger.

Cast: Ito Aghayere, Phillip James Brannon, Tony Carlin, Demosthenes Chrysan, Caroline Hewitt, Rick Holmes, Ted Koch, Ian Lassiter, Teresa Avia Lim, Adam Ludwig, Sean McIntyre, Nate Miller, Steven Pasquale, Ethan Phillips, Matthew Rauch, Matthew Saldivar, Charlie Semine, Michael Siberry, Miriam Silverman, Joey Slotnick, Henry Stram, Stephanie Umoh.

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