Theatre Raleigh’s bold new play Junk, written by Ayad Akhtar and directed by Charlie Brady, dives into the high-powered, 1980s world of insider-trading-filled Wall Street, at a time when greed was just starting to come- at least brazenly- to the surface and to be the driving force behind every decision made.
The show’s central focus is on the increasingly ruthless Robert Merkin. Marc Levasseur’s multi-faceted portrayal manages to infuse a bit of charm and in-spite-of-yourself likeability into the character, despite the heinous acts he will commit as the show goes on. His portrayal, however, is fitting for a show that turns old-fashioned notions of good and bad and right and wrong on their heads and ask tough questions of its viewers.
While Akhtar’s script is long on dialogue and slowly unwinding action,Josh Smith’s intricate set and Brady’s smooth directing manage to keep the show surprisingly fast-moving. Smith’s set features three highly-stacked tiers, which serve as offices, homes, and other settings as needed, all believably. Furthermore, Smith’s set keeps things so visually interesting that, even when the dialogue grows a bit lulling, the production still remains visually interesting and alive, striking a nice balance. Also nice here are the small time-setting details, like the Rubik’s Cube bounced around throughout the scenes.
Slowly, however, the nostalgia fades away to immerse viewers fully into the very real world of these characters and the lives affected by Merkin’s schemes. Larry Evans does an effective, emotional job in his portrayal of Murray, an investor who is snaked along by Murkin to the point of pain. Jeffrey Blair Cornell is also nice in his effective portrayal of Thomas Everson, a man who loses much at the hands of Merkin. Emotional and, at times, devastating, Cornell’s character is the heart of the show.
And, while at first, the script and what unfolds within it may seem overly technical, if one listens closely, it’s all there- a nice nod to the kind of “business” and “deals” Merkin himself spins.
A character in this play posits that, “a man is what he has,” and that’s a fundamental message that is explored throughout. Filled with tough questions, complex characters, and a shocking second act, this story is one that asks viewers to question what they value, who they are, and what risks they would take if they knew the effects.
Powerful, new, and innovative, Theatre Raleigh‘s production has done a great service by bringing this thoughtful and provocative piece to the Triangle.
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