Theresa Rebeck keeps churning out plays, not to mention the first season of the TV series Smash. Unfortunately, her latest comedy-drama, Dead Accounts, isn't one of her better efforts. I wasn't crazy about her last Broadway offering, Seminar starring Alan Rickman, but it was more entertaining than this tepid tale of a New York City banker who returns home to Cincinnati.
Norbert Leo Butz plays the banker, Jack, and the first sign that he's been up to no good is when he pulls bundles of cash out of his pockets. Actually, that's the second sign. The first is when he tells his sister Lorna (Katie Holmes) that he bribed a guard at a local grocery store in order to steal pints of his favorite ice cream. It turns out that Jack embezzled $27 million from his company by periodically swiping money from dead accounts. We don't learn of his crime until his soon-to-be-ex wife Jenny (Judy Greer) shows up unexpectedly. Jenny comes from an old-money East Coast clan, so naturally she's cold and snooty. On the other hand, Jack and Lorna's mother, Barbara (Jayne Houdyshell), is warm, unaffected and stereotypically Midwestern. We don't ever see her husband of 47 years, since he's lying in bed in a Percocet haze trying to pass a kidney stone. Rounding out the cast of characters is Jack's high school friend Phil (Josh Hamilton), a likable guy who never left Cincinnati and apparently has an unrequited crush on Lorna.
Most of the play consists of banter around the kitchen table. There are a few funny lines, along with a lot of observations about the differences between New York and the Midwest. After years of living the glamorous life, Jack has soured on the city and badmouths the "sociopaths in New York." (He would no doubt include Jenny in that group.) Rebeck's other main theme is the way money controls people. Jack bemoans the fact that New Yorkers are slaves to the almighty dollar, and Lorna delivers a rousing little speech about how "No one in the Midwest gives a shit about banks right now."
That second-act diatribe is pretty much the highlight of Dead Accounts, and Holmes (who made her Broadway debut in the 2008 revival of All My Sons) delivers it with aplomb, despite the fact that her voice got raspier as the evening progressed. She and Butz don't look much alike but nonetheless do a good job of conveying a believable sibling connection. Jack is hyper and kind of obnoxious; he also doesn't think he did anything wrong since the bank didn't notice the money was missing. Butz is, as ever, lively and watchable, but he relies on familiar mannerisms and speech patterns that he's employed to better effect in other shows. Last season he really stretched as an actor in How I Learned to Drive, and of course he's become one of our leading song-and-dance men in musicals like Catch Me if You Can and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (winning Tony Awards for both). Here he seems to be in cruise control, as is Houdyshell (Well), who doesn't have to work too hard to be convincingly Midwestern. Hamilton and Greer are fine, though they have even less to work with.
Director Jack O'Brien has at least as many impressive credits (Hairspray, The Invention of Love, The Full Monty, among others) as his capable cast. Even he can't work miracles with a so-so script, however. Dead Accounts isn't exactly DOA, but it is pretty dull.