Taking On Wall Street’s Church of Big Money

This latest work is a progression rather than a departure for Mr. Akhtar. He once again mercilessly examines a faith and culture — in this case, money and Wall Street — and his characters are subject to the pull of a powerful orthodoxy. An idealistic journalist in the story sets out to “torpedo every piety of this new faux-religion of finance” but edges too close and is compromised and subsumed. The drama is not an overt comment on the current political moment, but it is a kind of parable. It implies we have all been co-opted, having traded our healthy suspicion of people with vast wealth for something more like worship.


Matt Rauch, left, and Steven Pasquale rehearsing Mr. Akhtar’s “Junk.” Mr. Pasquale portrays a Michael Milken-like junk bond king.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

“The whole culture around rights, it’s valuable and it’s important but it’s not really what’s happening,” Mr. Akhtar said. Identity politics on both sides, he believes, has the nation “consumed and distracted from the real story.”

“Money,” he said, “is what’s happening.”

‘A Ferocious Interest’

Mr. Akhtar’s first reader and informal dramaturge on everything he writes is Steve Klein, a close friend, financier and jack-of-all-trades who has written screenplays and produced movies. The two of them are engaged in a long-running back and forth about the morality of capitalism and meaning of various arcane events that have taken place on Wall Street. I had lunch with them one day as they jousted about “QE,” which they somewhat helpfully explained stands for “quantitative easing,” and Mr. Akhtar insisted to his friend, “I’ve read the Fed minutes!” — by which he meant the minutes of a meeting of the Federal Reserve from 1979.

We were at BBar in the East Village, an informal place, and Mr. Akhtar was dressed in jeans and a white V-neck T-shirt. He often augments this look with an unbuttoned flannel shirt, which I’d heard referred to as his “uniform.” He has a shaved head, what usually appears to be a day or two of stubble and such an intense gaze that in a children’s cartoon he’d be depicted with gears spinning rapidly inside his brain.

His interest in finance is longstanding. When Mr. Akhtar set off for New York to become a writer, his father, who founded a…

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