Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Grand Hotel: The Musical, P.Y.G. or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle and The Peculiar Patriot

Edward Gero, Thomas Keegan,
and Jonathan David Martin

Photo by C. Stanley Photography
In Junk, playwright Ayad Akhtar paints a story of financial manipulation in fascinating detail—and if sometimes the identities and alliances of the participants are difficult to follow, think of it as "Game of Thrones" set in the U.S. during the 1980s.

Akhtar's overarching theme is how money became the motivating force in U.S. business: the leveraged buyout, using debt as a commodity in taking over a business; company-saving "white knights" and takeover-stopping "poison pills"; and the deployment of high-risk, high-reward investments ("junk bonds"). Director Jackie Maxwell commands a large cast on Misha Kachman's minimalist set in the Fichandler Stage at Arena Stage in Washington, DC.

While financial journalist Judy Chen (Nancy Sun) provides occasional commentary, the center of Junk is Robert Merkin (Thomas Keegan), a Beverly Hills-based financial boss making a move away from junk and into the mainstream. With Merkin's support, small-time player Israel Peterman (Jonathan David Martin) is determined to acquire a family-run steel company owned by Thomas Everson Jr. (Edward Gero).

As on a chessboard, each piece has a role, even if their alliances are in question. Merkin knows how to pressure investor Murray Lefkowitz (Michael Russotto) to keep the money faucet open; engages in off-the-books activity with Boris Pronsky (Elan Zafir); and battles Wall Street traditionalist Leo Tresler (David Andrew Macdonald), who is taking a personal interest in reporter Judy's career. (Part of Akhtar's history lesson is that Wall Street at the time had no interest in "outsiders" like Jews or people of color. The upstarts of the 1980s may have broken laws, but they also broke into the mainstream and changed the focus of business from consumers and employees to investors.)

While Keegan gives a dynamic performance as a man building the future, several other cast members provide crisp counterpoints: Gero, as Everson, finding that caring about his employees makes him a dinosaur in business; Macdonald, as a man who isn't prepared to lose his pre-eminent position in finance to some kid from California; Zafir, as Pronsky, rough-edged but proud and defiant despite everything; and Lise Bruneau as Gero's longtime financial advisor.

Arena Stage
April 5th - May 5th, 2019
By Ayad Akhtar
Union Rep/Corrigan Wiley/Fight Captain: Elliott Bales
Giuseppe Addesso: Nicholas Baroudi
Maximilien Cizik: Lise Bruneau
Kevin Walsh: Jaben Early
Charlene Stewart/Lawyer: Amanda Forstrom
Amy Merkin: Shanara Gabrielle
Thomas Everson Jr.: Edward Gero
Mark O'Hare/Curt: Michael Glenn
Devon Atkins/Waiter: Dylan Jackson
Jacqueline Blount: Kashayna Johnson
Robert Merkin: Thomas Keegan
Leo Tresler: David Andrew Macdonald
Israel Peterman: Jonathan David Martin
Murray Lefkowitz/Maître d'/Counsel: Michael Russotto
Judy Chen: Nancy Sun
Raúl Rivera: Perry Young
Boris Pronsky: Elan Zafir
Directed by Jackie Maxwell
Fichandler Stage, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth St. SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or