Sometimes a play that doesn't quite work can be more satisfying than a well-made piece of dramatic yard goods. It isn't hard to see what's wrong with Theresa Rebeck's "Dead Accounts," the story of a manic embezzler who takes the money and runs home to his mother—yet for all its manifest flaws, Ms. Rebeck's new play is seldom predictable and never boring, and her cast, led by Norbert Leo Butz, glitters like sapphires on black velvet. If it's perfection you want, go elsewhere, but you'll miss out on an exceedingly interesting night at the theater.
DEAD ACCOUNTS Broadway Reviews
Reviews of Dead Accounts on Broadway. See what all the critics had to say and see all the ratings for Dead Accounts including the New York Times and More...
This comedy about a prodigal son, returned from the wilds of New York City to his family in Cincinnati, seems to float out of memory even as you’re watching it. Ms. Rebeck, the author of“Seminar” and “Mauritius,” keeps throwing out weighty subjects — from the ethics of Wall Street to the existence of God — but never cultivates them into anything approaching a solid existence. They all blur into a single jet stream of semisnappy dialogue before changing course a few times and evaporating…For at least its first 15 minutes “Dead Accounts” does manage to command your attention. That’s because its first scene is essentially a sustained aria of nervous energy for Mr. Butz...Ms. Rebeck doesn’t seem to have settled on a tone or, for that matter, a subject. “Dead Accounts” is, I think, meant to be about the inflation of the superficial in a materialistic society, and the attendant, unsatisfied craving for belief...But the play never follows through convincingly on any of its ideas.
[Holmes] mostly tries hard to keep up with stage veterans Norbert Leo Butz and Jayne Houdyshell in Rebeck's oddly thin new play...Director Jack O'Brien struggles to both get the five-person cast to really jibe and the rhythm of the plot to get going. Holmes relies too much on a whiny teenage angst and a guilelessness that worked on TV but lacks nuance onstage...Rebeck, who created the first season of NBC's "Smash" and several well-received plays including "Seminar" and "Mauritius," has stumbled a bit with "Dead Accounts," a love letter to the hardworking, plainspoken Midwest, but one that lacks the sharpness and depth of her previous work...The heavy lifting is done by Butz...Butz at first seems to be overcompensating for the smallness of Holmes, but the anguish and heart of his character are revealed beautifully...But "Dead Accounts" doesn't really resolve anything or really end. It just sort of peters out, its momentum lost and none of its issues resolved.
Directed with a nimble hand by Jack O’Brien, the Broadway production assembles a terrific five-person cast. Two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz is in typically wired, Energizer-Bunny form, with Holmes ably playing foil. After appearing in a supporting part in the 2008 revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, the actress brings a lovely naturalness to her first starring Broadway role, along with frazzled warmth and judicious glimmers of a more brittle edge...The play, however, suffers from the same shortcomings that often cramp the theater work of Rebeck...Dead Accounts is all surface polish and minimal depth. It has lively dialogue, well-drawn characters and a smattering of smart observations about contemporary life. But it never acquires thematic coherence. The set-up is capable if a little unhurried, but the payoff is negligible, too often stuffing overworked wisdom into its characters’ mouths to make points upon which the writer fails to expand.
Rebeck clearly intends to lampoon her mercurial Manhattan milieu and treat the Midwest without the usual condescension. But one of the many problems with this script, which is entertaining and zesty in a moment-by-moment way but really does not hang together as a credible dramatic story, is that it relies on the dodgy assumption that people in Cincinnati actually define themselves, all the time, as heart-of-America Midwesterners, when, in fact, they think of themselves as Cincinnatians, residents of a pretty urbane locale…"Dead Accounts" holds one's attention, not least because it allows the hyperkinetic Butz to energize the piece. He is a lot of fun throughout, especially when playing opposite Houdyshell's dry wit. Holmes...generally lacks sufficiently expansive definition, but, in the few moments of actual revelation, she finds some poignancy in her relationship with her character. None of these actors, though, can help the lack of credibility of some of the play's central devices.
...how did Holmes and a bushel of theater talents, including director Jack O'Brien, take a wrong turn into this slim screech of a sitcom, a scattershot slice of stereotypical life with characters as unbelievable as they are unlikeable? Written on commission by a theater in Rebeck's hometown of Cincinnati, the script pretends to embrace Midwest over New York values but flattens both into insults...On the plus side, audiences coming to see a miscast Holmes will be introduced to Norbert Leo Butz. The actor, actually the star of the play, does yet another of his nonstop hyperactive eccentrics with which he won Tonys in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "Catch Me If You Can." Sure, he starts at manic and revs up from there. If he seems to be working too hard this time, notice, please, how little there is to push against him.
There's "Dead Accounts" and then there's "No Accounts", which is a more apt title for this dramatically lifeless play in which there's no accounting for structure, theme or purpose. There is, however, lots of ice cream and a dazzling central performance from Norbert Leo Butz. But no ands, ifs, or buts about it: the play is DOA.
Katie Holmes is ideally cast in "Dead Accounts." Not because she's that Katie Holmes, but because the fresh-faced star effortlessly projects the Midwestern virtues of honesty and moral integrity that scribe Theresa Rebeck celebrates. These values are kicked around in an amusing if aimless way in this comedy about a rogue hero (the perfect role for Norbert Leo Butz) who throws himself on the family bosom after behaving badly in New York. Rebeck opens up some smart arguments about old-time values in a modern world, but these circular conversations are too shallow to rock the boat.
Norbert Leo Butz is no stranger to playing shady characters...In Dead Accounts, Theresa Rebeck's engaging but unsatisfying new dramedy, he brings a fast-talking charm to a New York banker named Jack who suddenly shows up at his parents' suburban Cincinnati home with suspicious stacks of cash...With the exception of Jack, though, the characters are as thin as old dish towels. Holmes, effortlessly sympathetic in an underwritten role as a dithering thirtysomething, tears into a populist rant against banks and flirts playfully with Jack's still-in-Ohio high school pal Phil (Josh Hamilton)...The first act of Dead Accounts plays like a claustrophobically staged TV pilot...But Act 2 is like the second episode of a 13-show season, ending on a mini-catharsis as modest as a churchgoing Midwesterner. A full season (or further re-writing) might have allowed Rebeck to flesh out her promising setup, but this wisp of a show pays steep penalties for premature withdrawal. B–
[Holmes is] charming, natural and, yes, about as fresh-faced as a moisturizer model. But there's only so much that can be done with a Rebeck play that has more topical urgency (greed, ethics and banking funny business) than dramatic finesse. Sharing the stage with Holmes is two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, who pulls out all the stops in the play's leading role…he delivers a performance of frenetic gusto as Jack...Butz practically ricochets off the walls of the simple Midwestern kitchen that's the setting for "Dead Accounts," but not even he can transcend the contrived nature of a character who is really nothing more than a collection of manic playwriting impulses...director Jack O'Brien...isn't able to sort out the problem through his staging. His production draws out the sharpest colors in the cast, magnifying the characters' most salient qualities in an amped-up TV sitcom manner.
Prolific playwright Theresa Rebeck is on a downward spiral with her Broadway offerings. The problematic but interesting “Mauritius” was followed by the flashy but empty “Seminar,” and now there’s “Dead Accounts,” the lazy and predictable comedy at the Music Box Theatre that wouldn’t even pass muster as a Lifetime movie. Indeed, its presence on the Great White Way would be inexplicable without film star Katie Holmes in the cast, in an undemanding role that any number of actors could have played...Under Jack O’Brien’s just-go-for-it direction, Norbert Leo Butz works feverishly to make something out of Jack, employing his spectacular gift for physical comedy while infusing Jack’s rants with musicality and as much conviction as he can summon. Unfortunately, there’s no there there, and this talented actor’s work is reduced to a bag of tricks...Rebeck was once a promising, obviously talented writer. In her quest for Broadway success, I fear that she may have locked her soul away in its own dead account.
If there were a Tony Award for extraordinary effort in trying to breathe life into a flat-lining play, Norbert Leo Butz would win, hands down.
Given the many outstanding plays that premiered Off-Broadway last month and really deserve to be seen (including Samuel D. Hunter's "The Whale" and Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"), it's depressing to have yet another insubstantial, uneventful and pointless play by Theresa Rebeck on the stage…Rebeck offers just a tiny sliver of a plot, undeveloped characters and a few themes that are superficially explored…The real attraction of "Dead Accounts" is seeing Katie Holmes in her first professional gig after deserting Tom Cruise. Oddly enough, she only has a supporting, rather uninteresting role as Butz's homely-looking, stressed-out sister.
In lieu of an engaging story, unseen people, including the sibs’ sick dad, are gabbed about while undeveloped thematic strands dangle. Ideas rise up about staying put in one’s hometown vs. leaving, buying into God vs. worshipping money and life in New York vs. the Midwest. After an hour, Jack’s wife, Jenny (Judy Greer, miscast as a model of urbanity), arrives and reveals that her soon-to-be ex has raided neglected bank accounts of dead people to the tune of $27 million. The huge sum is a device to reveal Jenny’s greed and to give Lorna an aria about why she can’t fret about banks getting screwed. Director Jack O’Brien can’t do much with the material, so he puts his energy into moody scene changes. And he cast Butz, who he guided to Best Actor Tony wins in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Catch Me If You Can.”
“Dead Accounts,” on the other hand, seems phoned in, the kind of TV sitcom Rebeck herself can tear into with delicious spleen.