Wednesday, April 10, 2019

"Junk" at Arena Stage

I'm going to dive right into the content warnings first, and then get to discussion of the play. "Junk" has an onstage suicide (no gore).  It contains a Chinese American character, a Cuban American character, and a few Jewish characters. Each of them is subjected to microaggressions. As far as I recall, only the white non-Jewish male and Black characters escape. There is also a lot of what we might call period appropriate misogyny. And if journalists who sleep with one of their sources is a thing for you, this has that too. At one point the music resembles a high pitched hum. 
All listed up like that it makes the play seem a little harsher than it is. However it is a play about capitalism, specifically capitalism and Wall Street type stuff throughout the 1980's, the after effects we are still dealing with today. If you like plays where there is someone to root for, this play doesn't really give you that. If you like watching people fall deeper into traps, greed traps of their own making, then this is ninety minutes of fun. 
The focus is on a money maker who revolutionized the use of junk bonds to finance takeovers, the other money maker who scoffed at the newfangled way and the company caught in the middle of their fight. 
This is staged in the round. Some of the directorial transitions were wonderful, one causing a full audience chuckle. I did feel, from my vantage point at least, the action angled diagonally just enough that I noticed, but this was a small quibble. 
The cast was wonderful.  The lack of intermission worked well to keep you immersed in the action.  It creates an interesting parallel to "Sweat" which I also saw at Arena, which looked at the death of a steel factory from the point of view of various factory workers, since the company that is the center of this is also in part a Pennsylvania steel company.  It is the kind of play that leaves you thinking about how embedded money is, even as you pass by all the corporate sponsorship logos.