Ya gotta love the confidence of that title.
If this were going to be a negative review— which it is not, this play is quite good — the jokes about Junk would be all too easy. But thank god for fast-paced, non-patronizing theatre for adults.
Set in the mid ’80s, Junk tells the story of one particularly hostile corporate takeover, filled with junk bonds, insider trading, financial warfare and lots and lots of power suits. Wolves of Wall Street will be hunted. Vanities are set for bonfires. Is the show deeply cynical in its wall-to-wall depiction of Reagan-era capitalism? You bet. But that cynicism is crisp and not remotely self-impressed, never wallowing in its everyone-is-tainted worldview of 1 percenters squabbling over invisible piles of gold.
Going on at Arena Stage now until May 5, this show is a worthy investment.
Ayad Akhtar’s script is tight and juicy, like a good filet. And director Jackie Maxwell brings the potatoes and veggies, coaching nourishing work out of a talented crew and cast and skillfully staging twists, escalations, conflicts and a countless series of moral compromises.
And what a cast! Rare is it to see such a strong grouping of D.C. actors. Edward Gero, Lise Bruneau, Michael Glenn, Shanara Gabrielle — none of these performers are capable of wasting stage time. Thomas Keegan stars as a Master of the Universe so drunk on his own Kool-Aid he actually believes he’s “creating the world” as he leverages debt into acquisitions, making hundreds of millions of dollars as jobs slowly bleed out of the country. He essentially invents the modern leveraged buyout, which, as is repeatedly pointed out, is inherently a force neither for good nor for evil.
Keegan’s monologue extolling debt’s virtue, its brimming potential, is considerably more compelling than, say, Wall Street’s “Greed is Good.” Indeed one of the ways Akhtar compliments the audience’s intelligence is by assuming familiarity with previous tales of swimming with the financial sharks, ranging from American Psycho to The Big Short.
Occasionally — just occasionally — the script holds your hand a little.
“He filed paperwork this morning.”
“With the SEC?!”
Nah, man, with the Island of Misfit Toys — try to keep up.
And MUST the only journalist on stage sleep with one of her sources? Sure, David Andrew MacDonald’s double-breasted billionaire is one of the show’s best characters, but he’s hardly irresistible. Some decorum, please, ladies and gentlemen — this is a board meeting.
But don’t let these negative assets fool you. No garbage jokes to be made here: Junk is high-quality goods.