Characters consume lots of comfort food in Theresa Rebeck’s dramedy about moral relativity and amoral relatives. Ice cream is shoveled from multiple pint containers; characters gobble cheese dogs; by the end, eight pizzas have made an appearance. But no edible is chewed with more zest than the scenery Norbert Leo Butz inhales as Jack, a fast-talking banker on the run. Jack has turned up at his family’s home in Cincinnati, trailing a dirty secret from New York. The play is essentially the unraveling of that mystery and what it says about Jack’s sick soul.
Dead Accounts is a damp squib compared with Rebeck’s last Broadway offering, the eloquently nasty Seminar. Part of the problem is that Rebeck gives Jack the best lines and the motive for dominating the room. Bullshitting a mile a minute, he meets very little resistance from sad-sack sister Lorna, who has moved back in with her parents. The character’s whiny passivity is compounded by a sweet but muted performance from Katie Holmes. The actor has grown as a stage performer since 2008’s revival of All My Sons, but her line readings are still pat and chirpy, as if she were waiting for someone to yell, “Cut!” Otherwise, the supporting cast is laudable, with assured work by Jayne Houdyshell, Josh Hamilton and Judy Greer (straining in an underwritten and stereotyped role). Butz muscles laughs out of the audience with the grim determination of an actor supporting a sagging plot.
Clearly, Rebeck wants to say something bold about banks and the monetizing of human interaction, but her tendency to lapse into glib comical banter dilutes the impact of her social critique. Directed with a veneer of edginess by Jack O’Brien, the play tantalizes with a few inspired riffs on ethics and money, but it ultimately doles out petty cash.—David Cote
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