Friday, December 1, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Junk TOP PICK

A scene from the Lincoln Center Theater production of JUNK by Ayad Akhtar.Photo: T. Charles Erickson

By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Douglas Hughes
Lincoln Center Theater
Through Jan. 7

By Lauren Yarger
If the world of bond investment leaves you scratching your head, don't be intimidated by Junk, Ayad Akhtar's fascinating new Broadway play at Lincoln Center. You don't have to understand the intricacies of high finance to get the message: selling your soul for money doesn't bring happiness.

Set in 1985, the play focuses on the seemingly limitless ability to create wealth on Wall Street. Steven Pasquale stars as Robert Merkin, the king of Junk Bonds (high yield, higher risk investments), who is poised to make the deal of the decade: the takeover of an iconic American manufacturing company. The character is an homage to real-life Michael Milken, who is credited with inventing the junk bond and to an era when money became the root of everything.

Merkin has it all; a dream career, a successful analyst wife, Amy (Miriam Silverman), who is putting her career on a back burner following the birth of their son, and more money than most of us would know how to spend in a lifetime, but it's not enough. Motivated by the belief that "debt is an asset," he wants more, more, more. He participates in illegal, insider trading and puts plans in motion for the takeover of Everson, whose owner, Thomas Everson (Rick Holmes), leaves the company vulnerable by shifting funds around to save the steel manufacturing parts of the company and the jobs and livelihoods that it has provided during the three generations his family has been the company’s owner.

Everson vehemently opposes the takeover and thinks that will be enough to stop it. But times have changed and Merkin has re-invented the art of the takeover, meaning that Everson needs to find a way to buy his own company's stock to stay in control. In a battle that is evocative of power struggles in the best of Shakespeare's royal families, Merkin takes advantage of Boris Pronsky (Joey Slotnick), an old client, who reluctantly invests his wife's money against her will.

Even as Merkin's dynasty, built on greed, topples as the feds close in, the junk bond king continues to put his love for money above freedom, friendship and love.

Douglas Hughes expertly directs the large cast of 23 with the vibrant action taking place on John Lee Beatty's compartmentalized set (which cleverly reminds us somewhat of a cash drawer), highlighted by Wall Street figures projected as a backdrop (59 Productions, design).

Pasquale (The Robber Bridegroom, The Bridges of Madison County) impressively steps out of the sympathetic romantic lead role to present a very troubled, almost creepy man obsessed with money. The two-and-a-half-hour script from the Pulitzer-Prize winner for Disgraced is tight and engrossing. If some of the financial dialogue is over the head of the average audience-goer (though perhaps, with the cost of tickets these days, you might need profits from bond investments to finance a day at the theater and might indeed be savvy about high-risk bonds....), the plot can be followed without trouble, and the script, primarily through the character of Judy Chen (Teresa Avia Lim), provides some explanation.

Don't miss this one, playing a limited run through Jan. 7 at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Performance times vary. Tickets are $87-$147:

Additional casting:
Ito Aghayere, Phillip James Brannon, Tony Carlin, Demosthenes Chrysan, Jenelle Chu, Caroline Hewitt, Rick Holmes, Ted Koch, Ian Lassiter, Teresa Avia Lim, Adam Ludwig, Sean McIntyre, Nate Miller, Ethan Phillips, Matthew Rauch, Matthew Saldivar, Charlie Semine, Michael Siberry, Henry Stram, and Stephanie Umoh.

Additional credits:
Catherine Zuber, costumes; Ben Stanton, lighting; Mark Bennett, original music and sound.


-- Language
-- Strong sexual dialogue
-- God's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2024 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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