The year is 1985 but the financial shenanigans in the use of junk stock to pump up high profits and company takeovers are still a fascinating reminder that the potential for corruption is ever-present. Think of the Trump moves to eliminate restrictions that were put in place to curb such dangerous financial practices.
“Junk,” written by Ayad Akhtar, is flashily directed by Doug Hughes. This Lincoln Center Theater production is presented by arrangement with The Araca Group. John Lee Beatty has designed the sets with a huge background panel to suggest stock market listings, and coupled with the dazzling lighting bursts designed by Ben Stanton, the overall effect is an electrifying accompaniment to the fierce illegalities depicted. Cubicles provide more intimate spaces into which actors s can burst forth.
The prime corrupt force is Robert Merkin, played with frenzied brilliance by Steven Pasquale. Money is his god as he demonstrates his talent for enticing others with the lure of huge profits if they invest in the schemes he deviously executes. Those who carry out his plots find rewards in the millions. The play includes anti-Semitic comments that reflect engrained attitudes.
The first act details what Merkin is up to and introduces characters who will become part of the ultimate wreckage. There is a feeling of repetition that sets in, but the second act picks up with the dramatization of how authorities put the squeeze on entrapped associates. Ultimately Merkin is cornered into having to make a deal that includes some prison time but leaves him with ill-gotten money that remains even after bribing the public figure with whom he cuts the arrangement. The message: Corruption is everywhere.
In addition to Pasquale’s dynamic performance, there is strong acting by Miriam Silverman as Merkin’s wife, Amy, who fights against his plunge into blatant illegality. “Junk” also benefits from the large impressive supporting cast, with some doubling up of roles. At the Vivian Beaumont Theater, 50 Lincoln Center Plaza. Phone: 212-362-7600. Reviewed November 10, 2017.