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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
With Dead Accounts prolific stage and TV scribe Theresa Rebeck has returned to her own home town — Cincinnati, Ohio, courtesy od the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park which commissioned and produced a premiere run. Since this is Rebeck's third Broadway outing with a prestigious cast and director (<a href="mauritius.html">Mauritius in 2007 and Seminar last season) you can hardly call her a failure, especially since she's also had numerous off-Broadway productions, a successful TV career and written a novel (my review).
But for Jack (Norbert Leo Butz), Rebeck's anti-hero, his unannounced return to his childhood home is hardly a triumph. Oh, sure he has stacks of ready cash, enough to pay $1000 to a worker at a closed-for-business store selling Cincinnati's favorite brand of ice cream to let him pick a container of all his best loved flavors. He also seems cheerful enough. However, it doesn't take long to suspect that all may not be well with his New York life which includes marriage to Jenny (Judy Greer), a wealthy New Yorker or his job in the bank where he's been working courtesy of his father-in-law's connections.
Given that Judy Greer's name does appear in the program's cast list we know that Jenny, unlike Jack's sick father, will show up. on stage However, the cast is listed in order of appearance and Judy Greer is the last entry. That means it may be a while before she appears with details about the marriage and clarification about why this play takes its title from the dead or inactive accounts that are part of a big bank's business. Until the reason for Jack's sudden homecoming are revealed, you'll spend the first act getting to know more about his Cincinnati family and its values, and watching him consume his favorite comfort foods (besides the Graeter's ice cream, that includes Skyline cheese coneys, and in the second act, LaRosa's Pizzas).
Jack's father remains economically off stage in an upstairs bedroom suffering from the latest attack of excruciatingly painful kidney stones. Jack's brother and three of his four sisters are also present only via dialogue and telephone conversations. On the other hand, very much present is sister Lorna (Katie Holmes) Holmes brings celebrity box office oomph to a play that's new as in not a revival, but with very little that's really new or ground breaking. Holmes's Lorna has ended an unhappy relationship just in time to help her mother Barbara (Jayne Houdyshell), through the father's latest health crisis.
While Lorna is pleasantly surprised to see her brother, she's not ready to welcome him back unquestioningly. Neither does she approve of his ice cream binging, even though she does end up going off her diet (obviously a case of poor self-image since Holmes is rail thin). His super religious mom, whose favorite and most admired offspring he seems to have always been, is delighted to have him back though by act two she too is uneasy about what's brought him back.
To provide a romantic sub-plot with a completely predictable upbeat outcome, Jack's old high school buddy Phil (Josh Hamilton) is also part of the set-up. And a set up for the bomb shell finale is what most of that first act is. Since Dead Accounts chugs along for an hour with very few surprises, I've put the details about Jack's need to reconnect with his family and Cincinnati's fast food delights at the end of the production information as Spoiler Alert Notes).
In act two Dead Accounts detours from dysfunctional family comedy into a more serious drama and touches on issues of greed and corruption, middle American versus big city values, church goers and non-church goers. Pro that she is, Rebeck builds up the anticipation for the more dramatic second half of her play deftly enough. But the whole story would be more effectively told and incisive in an uninterrupted 90 minutes. This also might have helped Mr. Butz tone down his excessively hyper stage persona and segue more gradually into the more nuanced aspects of his character. That said, this is very much a star vehicle for Butz. His fellow cast members who, except for New York born and raised Josh Hamilton, grew up in parts of the country close to or similar to Cincinnati, do the best to make the georgraphical affinity with their roles pay off.
Katie Holmes as Lorna actually gets the play's best bits of dialogue as she she tells her city slicker sister-in-law that people in Cincinnati are not likely to care about the problem of a big New York bank at a time when banks "hae been behaving very badly. . . acting like it doesn't matter that people's lives are being ruined because all they cared about was their profits and bonuses and taking all the bailout money and now no one can get a loan because they don't give a shit about people, so we don't give a shit about them." Too bad the Rebeckian approach to depth tends to be facile. The play makes no great demand on Holmes's comic skills as she easily gets the play's biggest laugh simply by offering her sophisticated sister-in-law a glass of wine from a box of the stuff.
As sister-in-law Jenny, Judy Greer is chic and brittle and sneers appropriately at all things Cincinnati — including the gorgeous red-leafed Maple trees outside the kitchen door that grew from sticks planted long ago when Jack and Lorna were kids. Overall, she doesn't make much of an impression.
The part of the Midwestern matriarch is made to order for Jayne Houdyshell. Josh Hamilton is fine as the permanent hometown boy working as an accountant for Cincinnati's mega-employer, Proctor and Gamble and as smitten with Lorna as he was during their long ago high school days. Their missed physical connections are, like the boxed wine scene, are Jack O'Brien's most smartly directed comic highlights.
No complaints about David Rockwell's modern, but not too modern, kitchen and Catherine Zuber's clothes. David Weiner's lighting for those big trees which grew up sturdier than the children who planted it is gorgeous. While the problems accounting for Jack's exodus from New York are detailed in the spoiler details after the production notes, Ms. Rebeck has left it up to you to figure out what Jack will do after he's indulged in his last spoonful of ice cream. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether Dead Accounts will go over as well with Broadway audiences as Graeter's ice cream does with Cincinnatians. Could be that opening a branch of Graeter's ice cream in the theater district might have been a better idea.
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Anything Goes Cast Recording
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