You need not comprehend high finance or know what buying and selling “junk” is to be pretty much blown away by La Jolla Playhouse’s world premiere of Ayad Akhtar’s Junk: The Golden Age of Debt. (Yeah, the title sounds like an economics thesis.) The gifted playwright who gave us Disgraced (coming to the San Diego Rep in October) and The Who & The What (at the Playhouse in 2014) has written a smart, kinetic indictment of the greedy power brokers of the ’80s and their seductively conned empty promises.
Tony winner Doug Hughes directs a simmering cast on a lit, tiered set reminiscent of the old Hollywood Squares, with shifts in scene and character changes flying fast and furiously. The central figure is junk bond trader Robert Merkin (Josh Cooke), who has a Lady Macbeth-ian wife (Annika Boras) and two savvy partners in crime (Matthew Rauch, Armando Riesco), all with a lot of dollar signs in their eyes. The characters in their periphery, including a tragic takeover target (Linus Roache) and a conflicted journalist (Jennifer Ikeda), will stick with you just as long. Guaranteed.
Junk: The Golden Age of Debt runs through Aug. 21 at La Jolla Playhouse, UCSD campus. $20 and up; lajollaplayhouse.org
Cygnet Theatre in Old Town has kicked off its new season with what it calls its biggest production ever— two dozen performers and six musicians. The show is one of the all-time great American musicals, Gypsy, and Cygnet is worthy of it. Start with a no-holds-barred Mama Rose, Linda Libby, who played the same part a few years ago on the much-smaller ion theatre stage. Add a Louise-turned- Gypsy who radiates body heat in Allison Spratt Pearce. And to bring the house down, you’ve got Marlene Montes, Kendra Truett and Marci Anne Wuebben as three burlesque strippers who, to paraphrase just one of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s wonderful songs, got a gimmick.
Yet as with any production of Gypsy, the proof is in the Mama Rose. Libby has the requisite nerve and verve, but it’s the vulnerability she brings to Act 2 that distinguishes her. Both Spratt Pearce and Manny Fernandes, as Rose’s frustrated beau Herbie, share some aching stage moments with her, when the complexity of these relationships is in focus.
Gypsy: A Musical Fable runs through Sept. 4 at the Old Town Theatre. $34-$62; cygnettheatre.com
Airline Highway: A sordid collection of miscreants gather at a seedy New Orleans motel for the funeral of a friend who hasn’t died yet. Hijinks ensue. Written by Pulitzer finalist Lisa D’Amour, it opens in previews Aug. 10 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center in Downtown. iontheatre.com
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: The musical production based on the movie about a grumpy hairball and the belle who loves him. Presented by Patio Playhouse, it opens Aug. 12 at the Kit Carson Park Amphitheatre in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com Love’s Labor’s Lost: Shakespeare’s comedy about a young king who becomes distracted from his studies when three French girls show up. Directed by Kathleen Marshall, it opens Aug. 14 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Suburban Showgirl: Palmer Davis’ one-woman show about a former Rockette looking back on her life to see where things may have gone awry. It opens for three performances Aug. 15 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Funny Business: The So-Cal premiere of this British farce about a seedy hotel whose guests and staff are thrown into upheaval after the arrival of a notorious journalist. Presented by PowPAC, it runs through Aug. 14 at the Poway Community Theatre. powpac.org
The Music Man: The Tony Award-winning musical comedy about a salesman who attempts to con a small town, but ends up falling in love with the town’s librarian. Presented by Ovation Theatre, it runs through Aug. 14 at the Howard Brubeck Theatre at Palomar College in San Marcos. ovationtheatre.org
Sense & Sensibility: The West Coast premiere of the musical based on the Jane Austen novel about the perseverant Dashwood sisters. Adapted by Paul Gordon, it runs through Aug. 14 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Last Train to Nibroc: Arlene Hutton’s moving play about two strangers who meet on a train in the ’40s and whose lives clash and coalesce in the subsequent years. Presented by Different Stages, it runs through Aug. 20 at the La Jolla Commons Theatre. differentstages.biz
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]: This fast-paced performance will feature three actors performing 37 Bard plays in 97 minutes. Presented by Luminary Arts, it runs through Aug. 21 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. luminaryarts.org
The Last Five Years: This two-person musical play about a tumultuous relationship is told backwards with the actors also doubling as musicians. Written by Jason Robert Brown, it runs through Aug. 21 at ion’s BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest.
Junk: The Golden Age of Debt: This world-premiere dramedy from Pulitzer Prize winning author Ayad Akhtar centers on a brash genius who sets out to change the world of finance in ’80s America. It runs through Aug. 21 at the La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Avenue Q: A musical comedy about a recent college grad who moves to NYC and is surrounded by foul-mouthed puppets. Presented by the OB Theatre Company, it runs through Aug. 28 at the OB Playhouse in Ocean Beach. obtheatrecompany.com
Gypsy: Stephen Sondheim’s lavish musical about an overbearing stage mother’s attempts to make her daughters into stars of the stage. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Sept. 4 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Meteor Shower: In this world premiere comedy, sparks fly when two couples get together to watch a backyard meteor shower. Written by Steve Martin, it runs through Sept. 11 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Oklahoma!: Two cowboys fight for the women they love in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical. Directed by Teddy Eck, it runs through Sept. 25 at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.