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Theater Review: ‘Dead Accounts’

By Judd Hollander Created: December 22, 2012 Last Updated: December 22, 2012
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Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holmes play brother and sister in Theresa Rebeck’s comedy “Dead Accounts.” (Joan Marcus)

Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holmes play brother and sister in Theresa Rebeck’s comedy “Dead Accounts.” (Joan Marcus)

NEW YORK—Playwright Theresa Rebeck looks at the question of perception in her serviceable Broadway comedy “Dead Accounts,” now at The Music Box Theatre.

In present day Cincinnati, Ohio, Lorna (Katie Holmes) leads an all too quiet life, living in her childhood home with her aging parents: a father with health issues and her usually disapproving mother (Jayne Houdyshell). As she says to her daughter, “You were never brilliant, but you worked hard.”

Lorna’s status quo lifestyle is suddenly upended by the return of her prodigal brother, Jack (Norbert Leo Butz), a New York banker. He talks a blue streak, loves the local ice cream, and throws money around like water.

Jack also avoids questions about his wife, Jenny (Judy Greer), who nobody in the family likes. While in town, Jack has also made a point of looking up old friends, such as Phil (Josh Hamilton), who has had a crush on Lorna for a very, very long time.

Jack’s almost frantic desire to return to the safety of his old home hides a deep insecurity, as well as the terrible fear of being alone and of losing part of his life that is fast slipping away. The money he’s come into is only a symptom of what’s going on.

It’s this premise, presented almost in the manner of a television sitcom, that allows Rebeck to look at some interesting family dynamics in regard to points of view. Everyone involved is sure they are in the right as different characters take varying positions on Jack’s situation.

There’s also the underlying question of what happens when people and relationships change over time so that nothing is like it once was—if such idealized memories ever really existed in the first place.

The exploration of issues such as these and the very capable and at times hilarious performances of the cast all make this a play worth watching.

Butz wonderfully plays Jack as a human dynamo, a man with a seeming answer for everything, while operating under the premise of never using the truth when a lie will do. Splitting hairs when it comes to ethical issues, he avoids confrontation like the plague, only facing the truth when there is no other option.

Holmes is very good as Lorna, the quiet girl who serves as the glue that holds the family together. As someone stuck in the rut of everyday life, she’s delighted to see her brother, because when he’s around, things start to happen. At the same time, she has her own set of emotional needs and might just find an unexpected chance for happiness before this is over.

Houdyshell often steals the show as Jack and Lorna’s mother. A religious woman, she sees things as black and white, not having time to bother with shades of gray. No-nonsense without being pious and stern, without being unfair, she can cut the strongest and most opinionated person down to size with a withering glance.

Greer does good work as Jenny, though hers is the most underdeveloped character of the piece. Jenny’s stake in Jack’s past actions becomes an ongoing question.

It would have been nice had she appeared less duplicitous in the beginning and allowed more of her feelings to emerge. One feels there is more to this person than revealed, and a more complex character would have certainly added to the story.

Hamilton is deliberately bland as the dependable Phil, whose “aw shucks” and occasional hangdog attitude end up being rather sweet in his scenes with Holmes.

Direction by Jack O’Brien is fine, keeping the story moving nicely and letting the actors (Butz especially) take their characters wherever they need to go. The piece probably could have been trimmed though, as the entire first act is one long setup for what comes later. However, once Jack’s big secret is revealed, things quickly get interesting.

David Rockwell’s kitchen set is nice and the lighting design by David Weiner, especially as executed at the close of the play, works well.

Cute and funny, with some hysterical laugh lines and some interesting points to make, “Dead Accounts,” a term in the banking business, makes for an enjoyable, if not an always sparkling experience.

Dead Accounts
The Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com
Running Time: 2 hours
Open run

Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.

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