Actor steals slim ‘Dead Accounts’
Dead Accounts, is, for better or worse, best known as that “Katie Holmes” play, since it is largely the presence of its tabloid favorite star that finally led the show to Broadway after a decent reception in Cincinnati. But very quickly it is double Tony-winner Norbert Leo Butz who emerges as the true star of Accounts, Theresa Rebeck’s latest wisp of a Broadway show.
Butz plays Jack, one of six siblings who grew up in a suburban Cincinnati household presided over by matriarch Barbara (Jayne Houdyshell). One night, Jack enigmatically sneaks back to his childhood home, leaving his New York job, apartment and wife behind, with a thousand dollars’ worth of Graeter’s ice cream in tow. We first meet him devouring the dairy late at night with Lorna (Holmes), the only sibling still living at home and the only one ever seen onstage. Jack, who shares hyperkinetic theatre DNA with Burn This’ Pale, uses the milquetoast-esque Lorna primarily as a sounding board for his own manic anecdotal pontificating.
Eventually, we learn more about why Jack has fled Manhattan, the whereabouts of his wife, and why he is so comfortable buying bottomless amounts of ice cream, pizza and cheese Coneys. None of these revelations come as much of a surprise, but Rebeck seems to want them to, stretching them out so as to etch an aura of suspense to her nominally comedic plot – so I will refrain from divulging most of them here. (Jack’s situation directly applies to the play’s title.) But the end result, even with veteran director Jack O’Brien using plenty of tricks in his tool belt to establish a sense of tonal harmony, is an anemic work both lacking in a sense of identity and resolution.
Accounts is at its (relative) best when Jack’s histrionics take center stage, putting some wonderful – not to mention wonderfully disciplined – physicality on display (no surprise to anyone who witnessed his astonishing “Don’t Break the Rules” number in Catch Me If You Can) in his many endless riffs comparing the warmth of the Midwest to the unfeeling Big Apple. Scenic designer David Rockwell certainly deserves credit for a very realistic simulation of middle American domesticity. But under the surface, Accounts strives to be something both darker and deeper, with commentary on the current financial crisis, family and how both have tainted the American dream. And yet the show cannot sustain these themes. Crowd-pleasing monologues by both Butz and Holmes about, respectively, the hollowness of materialistic and the callowness of the banks come out of nowhere. Additionally, a thread about their ill offstage father is a red herring that dangles without any structural or dramatic heft to the show. Rebeck, clinging to sitcom formula, dilutes any potential statement about the corrupting forces of greed with her own cheap tricks.
Another problem is that Lorna, single, never married, and still pined for by Jack’s loyal friend, Phil (Josh Hamilton), remains a cipher. Sustained references to an unnecessary diet she keeps breaking every time Jack totes home junk food suggest a subtext that never rises to the surface. (Do we ever even learn what she does for a living?) It’s a flat, unchallenging role that Holmes embraces without authenticating. There is also little variation in her line readings, which mainly traffic in a shrill lane of weary but well-meaning indigence. Judy Greer, too, seems a bit out of her element as a shallow ice queen. Hamilton and Houdyshell are consummate pros, however. Both have some very subtle, spontaneous-feeling reactions in their scenes, and make one wish they were included in more of them. But it is Butz who dominates Accounts, adding far more currency than Rebeck herself seems able to supply.
Music Box Theatre, 249 W. 45th St. Through Feb. 24. www.deadaccountsonbroadway.com
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