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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
DEAD ACCOUNTS
at the Music Box

PRODIGAL SON
By JESSICA BRANCH

  Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holmes/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Opening with the unexpected return of a prodigal son to Cincinnati – or is it his exile from New York? – Theresa Rebeck’s shiny, whimsical new comedy promises to take on a lot of tough topics: going home, aging parents, midlife crises, the nature of God. And while it does manage some charming moments, in the end, its once-over-lightly gloss leaves you feeling less than satisfied – or enlightened.
 
To be fair, those charming moments are worthwhile in and of themselves, particularly as they allow several talented actors to each strut their stuff in the spotlight. The brightest turn among them goes to Norbert Leo Butz as Jack, the hyperactive New York banker who’s returned to his parents’ home in Cincinnati with his dirty laundry and cartons and cartons of Graeter’s ice cream he picked up on his way from the airport. The first scene is almost entirely Jack’s fast-paced, frenetic explanation of himself, his appearance in Ohio and the ice cream, delivered to his bewildered younger sister Lorna (Katie Holmes). The scene – and even more, the performance – is a tour de force: Butz is mesmerizing as he races through his rationales and what’s got to be several pints of ice cream.
 
All Jack wants, he claims, in his sugar-fueled frenzy, is to return to his native haunts, so much more authentic and well mannered than the big city, and to his sister, Dad and Mom (Jayne Houdyshell). Turns out, in the calm of the next morning, that Jack’s newfound nostalgia for Cincy and his escape from New York have multiple causes. He’s in the process of getting an extremely nasty divorce from his rail-thin patrician New York wife Jenny (Judy Greer). Oh, and he’s been bilking the bank where her father got him a job by siphoning funds from dead accounts – to the tune of $27 million. His sister thinks he’s crazy, his Mom thinks he should give his ill-gotten gains to the poor, and his soon-to-be-ex-wife, who takes less than 24 hours to track him down, thinks that half of it is hers.
 
Rebeck’s good at giving Butz the words to create his wizardry, and she’s got a nice ear for family sniping and squabbling, whether it’s the Ohioans gossiping about Jenny or Lorna egging Mom on to take Jack to church. What feels forced here is her clichéd big city/small town shtick, which might work better if Cincinnati weren’t a city, of sorts, itself. It plays to a New York audience that loves to be hated by the rest of the world, but the only moment that feels true in it, and the culmination of a strong, capable performance by Holmes (even if she does look better than her glamorous Gotham sister-in-law), is when Lorna confronts Jenny to tell her just exactly how she and the rest of the Midwest (and hey, much of the Big Apple) really feel about banks now.
 
But while there are these moments – and Houdyshell, as the passive-aggressive but loving Mom and Josh Hamilton as Jack’s boyhood friend get their share, too – they never cohere into much of anything, and as they fail to connect, over and over, a sense of pointlessness pervades the play. Let’s face it: The targets are too easy. Bankers are greedy! People need purpose! Cheese coneys are good (though Rebeck never mentions goetta). And the questions feel even less pointed. What will Jack do in Cincinnati? Who knows? Should he return the $27 million to the bank? Who cares? Is there a God? Does it matter? There’s ultimately so little at stake here, that for all the strength of its performances, the play never develops any real sense of urgency, and ends with a whimper after beginning with a bang.

 


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