Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of JUNK at Arena Stage?

Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of JUNK at Arena Stage?JUNK is playing at Arena Stage in Washington DC through May 5, 2019.

As the brilliant and calculating Robert Merkin prepares a hostile takeover of a family-owned manufacturing company, he is not concerned about crossing the line to get what he wants in the name of "saving America." Inspired by the volatile and cut-throat financial world and the junk bond giants of the 1980s, "this epic piece of work" (Chicago Tribune) is an enticing look at the money makers, their hubris and those who tried to hold them accountable. Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar's (Disgraced) latest work asks if redemption is truly possible or if there is always a new scheme waiting in the wings.

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Let's see what the critics say...

John Stoltenberg, DC Metro: Akhtar's script features four super-smart major women characters who are consistently respected as such. Besides the journalist Chen and Emerson's advisers Cizik and Blount, there's also Amy Merkin, Robert Merkin's wife. She and he met in business school, and she's his financial collaborator and confidant; she knows how to work the market just as well as he does, if not better. They're teammates-in love, new parenthood, and wealth accumulation. And she is played by Shanara Gabrielle with a keen intelligence that makes their scenes together some of the most electric in the show.

Rachael Goldberg, BroadwayWorld: The show is incredibly well-written (as one would expect from a playwright whose work had previously won a Pulitzer Prize). It never shies away from financial jargon, but it also never talks over or down to the audience. The show is an accessible deep-dive into the world of finance, and it also manages to carefully balance that with a very human, emotional element.

Tim Treanor, DC Theatre Scene: The performance quality is uniformly high. Indulge me for a moment, please, while I point out what a fine actor Keegan has become. He is the play's focal point; and could be played as a moustache-twirling villain. Instead, he plays him as the story's most reasonable person, motivated less by greed and vengeance than by a desire to do good, opening the nation's wealth to excluded parties (himself included) and promoting rational economic choice, including the closing of unproductive businesses. In a scene with Amy and the couple's baby, he almost seems like a young dad trying to provide a good start to his new family, notwithstanding that he just revealed that his last year's pretax income was $800 million.

Peter Tabakis, Dcist: Junk explores familiar terrain previously covered on screens, both small and big, by Barbarians at the Gate and The Big Short. But this stylish and minimalistic production, directed by Jackie Maxwell, still feels fresh and vital. Jason Lyons' expert lighting design, for example, dramatizes the back-and-forth telephone game behind the flimsy conspiracy that soon collapses with a spectacular crash.

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