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11/30/2012 11:31 am ET Updated Jan 30, 2013

"Dead Accounts" Review: Questions, Subplots And A Capable Katie Holmes

Jack, the hero/antihero of Dead Accounts, Theresa Rebeck's new Broadway play, has returned to his roots in Cincinnati from New York and is on either a sentimental journey home or else he's on the lam. In Norbert Leo Butz's hilarious tour de force as Jack, it may be a bit of both.

At heart, Dead Accounts is a morality tale that has no moral at the end. Rebeck, whose last Broadway outing, Seminar, was a witty and smart examination of writing and publishing, has taken aim this time on a whole spectrum of geopolitical issues that has come to define the cultural chasm that divides America.

Wielding the stage equivalent of a sawed-off shotgun, Rebeck blasts away at so many grievances - ranging from shady banking practices to organized religion to big pharma, to the lack of proper appreciation of trees - she loses sight of her real target, if she ever had one. It's sort of like a video game in which you keep killing bad guys, only to find more around the next corner. And just as those games never seem to be over, Rebeck doesn't quite know how to end her play.

Maybe the game itself is the whole point, and in that respect Rebeck, an Ohio native herself, has crafted an intricate and often funny plot that allows her to vent at 21st-century America. The eye of this particular storm is Jack, and the tornado that swirls around him defies easy description. But in the inspired hands of Butz, Jack becomes a character of mesmerizing fascination. Dead Accounts is worth seeing if only to marvel at Butz's performance.
When we first meet Jack, he is seated at the kitchen table of his childhood home in Cincinnati with his sister Lorna, ably played by Katie Holmes. It is past midnight and he is surrounded by half a dozen pints of Graeter's ice cream. He arrived unexpectedly from New York and bribed a clerk at a closed ice cream store with $1,000 to open up. He then embarks on a rant about the snobbery of New Yorkers vis-a-vis the rest of the country. And who knew Cincinnati had the best ice cream in the world?

There is clearly a mystery about Jack. Why did he just hop on a plane and fly to his hometown all of a sudden? Where is his wife, and why didn't she come with him? His behavior in scenes that follow only adds to the intrigue. At one point he starts pulling wads of money from his pockets, even from his sock. A bit later, it's bottles of pills, as though he's a walking pharmacy. And what happened to the silver Mayflower teapot?

Some of the answers come at the end of the first act, and it would be remiss to give them away. Or as Jack himself says, "It's so complicated it's not worth explaining." A hint may come from the play's title, which is the term banks use when people die and leave money in accounts and nobody knows it's there.

The rest of the cast serve mostly as straight men, or straight women, for Jack's opinionated views of both love and money. There are various little subplots in the play - Jack's off-stage father is seriously ill, his mother has resorted to religion, and his sister and best friend have had an unspoken attraction for 20 years - but they are largely unexplored side shows to the three-ring circus that is Jack.

The moral questions begin to multiply, chief among them: Why is it O.K. for a bank to rob people, but not for people to rob banks? Jack O'Brien's astute direction keeps the action moving so quickly, one doesn't have much time to ponder.

The rest of the cast serve the play well. Holmes is convincing as a Midwestern girl who never left home; Jayne Houdyshell clucks about admirably as Jack's mother; and Josh Hamilton and Judy Greer offer good turns as Jack's best buddy and wife.

One quirk to the staging is that between scenes the stage lights are dimly brought up so the audience sees the cast striking one scene and setting up the one to follow. And varying renditions of the old Les Brown standard "Sentimental Journey" are played at the top of the show and between scenes. Maybe Jack really came back to Cincinnati just because he was homesick.

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