Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dead Accounts at The Music Box Theatre

Theresa Rebeck's new family comedy Dead Accounts has its fun moments.   Set in the Cincinnati suburbs the play contains many jokes at the expense of the differences between midwestern sensibilities and the alleged snobbery of Manhattanites.   At the heart of the tale is family in particular the loss of innocence and familiarity when a wayward family member comes home forever changed.  Unfortunately the purpose of the play is muddled and the ending is ultimately an unsatisfactory one.

Scenic designer David Rockwell creates a spacious kitchen set with a beautiful backdrop filled with trees in autumnal glory.  The sound design features prominently Sentimental Journey, a good theme for our main character, but used so often that it becomes a bit of a cliche.   Director Jack O'Brien brings forth good performances from his small ensemble of five, but in a few instances the characterizations suffer from being underwritten.

Son Jack returns home in the middle of the night clearly harboring a secret.  Flashing a lot of cash and with a pharmacy in his pockets and an compelling need to overcompensate for his cravings of good old fashioned Ohio food Jack claims that he's returned home simply to get away from the wife he's divorcing and his job as a banker.  His sister Lorna lives at home helping their mother Barbara take care of their never seen ailing father.  High school buddy Phil harbors a crush on Lorna.   Jack's story blows apart when his wife Jenny shows up revealing the real reason for Jack's flight from New York.

The play has its fun moments particularly from the manic performance of Norbert Leo Butz.  Impulsive,  Mr. Butz makes Jack an engaging character very sympathetic despite the revelations that his wife brings  at the very end of the first act.  As Jenny, Judy Greer is a willowy pillar of ice and contempt.  Her putdowns of kitchen floor coverings and Brooklyn are sharply funny.   Jayne Houdyshell is perfect as the supportive mother who is trying to deal with her son's crisis as well as the challenges of caring for her seriously ill husband.   Josh Hamilton was absent from this performance but his understudy Haynes Thigpen portrayed Phil as the gentle lug who represents that friend who never changes from high school.   As Lorna, Katie Holmes gives a good performance as the sister who has to put up with her brother's antics while giving up her own life to care for her parents.   While it may ironic to hear Ms. Holmes' character say she's watching her weight as she scarfs pints of ice cream and cheese coneys, haven't we all had that woman in our circle of acquaintances?

The play would benefit from the appearance of the off-stage father.  Jack claims to be too frightened to speak to him and the character affects everyone onstage, but not enough to justify being only an off-stage figure.   The play would also benefit from making a decision about Jack's activities one way or the other.  Having one character who takes the viewpoint that what he has done is morally wrong would be a vast improvement.   The ending doesn't feel satisfactory as the play simply seems to end with little resolution. Yet, the performances from the curiosity seekers wondering about Ms. Holmes' acting ability (she's fine) and the tornado that is Norbert Leo Butz make this an acceptable choice for a night at the theater.

Dead Accounts is being performed at The Music Box Theatre on Broadway through February 24, 2013.  For tickets and other performance information please visit

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