Review: Dead Accounts

© Joan Marcus

The ever-reliable Norbert Leo Butz should earn a Broadway MVP award for his dynamic comic turn in Dead Accounts, the latest effort by the prolific scribe Theresa Rebeck (Seminar, The Understudy, Mauritius). This comedy set in America’s heartland—specifically, Cincinnati—wastes a sterling cast, including tabloid media darling Katie Holmes, in a half-baked tale that doesn’t even manage to follow through on its thin premise.

Butz plays Jack, who in the play’s beginning is seen making an unannounced visit to his family home inhabited by unmarried sister Lorna (Holmes), mother Barbara (Jayne Houdyshell) and seriously ill, unseen father. Since he’s throwing money around with careless abandon, it soon becomes apparent that his homecoming has been prompted by more than nostalgic reasons, with the reason made clear shortly before the first act curtain. Complicating things even further is the arrival of his soon to be ex-wife Jenny (Judy Greer), whose dislike for his family is reciprocal.

To reveal the secret behind Jack’s return, hinted at in the play’s title, would be to spoil one of its few comic surprises. Suffice it to say that he’s on the lam and that Jenny is less interested in reuniting than in persuading him to share his ill-gotten spoils.

Subplots involving the father’s worsening condition and the reciprocal attraction between Lorna and Jack’s sad sack best friend Phil (Josh Hamilton) go nowhere, with the play’s chief comic mileage derived from Jack’s ebullient personality and penchant for toting home copious amounts of food. But when the play’s biggest laugh stems not from not from a situation or line of dialogue but rather the appearance of a box of wine, you know that something is awry.

Although some may find him over-the-top, Butz brings so much comic energy to his portrayal of the ice-cream obsessed Jack that he single-handedly ratchets up the proceedings. But while Houdyshell brings nice grace notes to her sensitive turn as the worried mom, the rest of the performers don’t fare as well. Holmes, although admirably willing to be de-glamorized as the improbably still single sister, doesn’t possess the stage chops to come across here as much more than bland. Hamilton is underused as the nebbishy friend, and Greer, so effective in her film and television work, mainly seems wan and uncomfortable onstage.

Director Jack O’Brien has staged the proceedings with his usual efficiency although without a shred of inspiration, and a climactic scenery transformation, meant to convey one character’s spiritual epiphany, merely seems extraneous. It’s indicative of all the effort that’s been invested in this show with very little pay-off.

The Music Box, 239 W. 45th St. 212-239-6200.