Mindich, Bharara See ‘Junk’ Portrayal of Law-Breaking FinancierBy
Milken missing at opening night of drama he helped inspire
Schwimmer, along with the cast, party at Tavern on the Green
Opening-night for Ayad Akhtar’s new play about a junk-bond king in the ‘80s was so very 2017.
There was former New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, fired in March by President Donald Trump and now podcasting about the Mueller investigation, snapping a selfie with the playwright.
Michael Milken, the high-yield financier turned philanthropist and an inspiration for lead character Robert Merkin, didn’t attend, though he plans to be in town Monday night for a Prostate Cancer Foundation benefit hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. Louise Grunwald, a fixture of New York society, said she met Milken once at a party at Saul Steinberg’s house.
Across the way was Eric Mindich, who started his career at Goldman Sachs in 1988, when Milken was still riding high at Drexel Burnham Lambert in Beverly Hills. Mindich worked in equities arbitrage, became the youngest partner at Goldman, then was part of a wave who left and started their own funds -- some of which have been closing lately.
Mindich said he’s seen the play more than once, as he’s chairman of the nonprofit Lincoln Center Theater that’s producing it. But not every board member attended opening night. Kewsong Lee, who’ll co-run Carlyle starting in 2018, and J. Tomilson Hill of Blackstone, didn’t make it, perhaps preoccupied with details of the Republican tax plan released earlier Thursday that sent some private-equity firm shares plunging.
A play about tax reform -- now that seems as likely as one about a junk bond king who goes to jail. But a crowd thick with entertainers came out for it Thursday night, including David Schwimmer, Jennifer Westfeldt, Aasif Mandvi and Glenn Fleshler from Showtime’s “Billions.”
"I know nothing about junk bonds, so I’m excited to learn along with everyone else tonight," said Fleshler, who plays the shadowy fixer who tries to keep the series’ hedge-fund giant Bobby Axelrod out of trouble.
Andre Bishop, Lincoln Center Theater’s producing artistic director, offered assurances the play wouldn’t offend anyone in finance, noting people in the industry have told him how “astounded” they are that it’s so “on the money, so to speak.” He added, "the play is hardly a damning criticism of capitalism or Wall Street at all. It’s the story of a deal and it’s the story of a man who was both reprehensible and a genius 35 years ago. So it doesn’t bear any comparison to the finance world today."
The debate “ideally I hope people will have,” Akhtar said at the opening night party at Tavern on the Green, is “whether the focus on efficiency and productivity and the innovations of that time were really worth the costs to the larger society.”
He continued: “That’s really the core: What is the rightful place of shareholder rights in America? I think it’s the most important question in American democracy that’s not discussed, because that’s the means by which the country is sold to the very few.”
One room over at the Central Park venue, a theater reporter asked actors in the play to define terms like convertible bonds, with amusing results. Down the hall the kitchen cranked out hundreds of sliders and pizza slices garnished with truffle oil. Waiters walked around to hand out big glasses of wine from silver trays. It wasn’t exactly ‘80s lavish, but the venue with its memories of parties in that era helped make it feel that way.