There’s a welcome new storm in town. Hurricane Norbert Leo Butz is blowing strong laughter and energy onstage at the Music Box Theatre. Although he doesn’t get to sing and dance (which he does extremely well) he uses his comedic skills to entertain and charm the audience in Theresa Rebeck’s new play Dead Accounts. As long as he is center stage, the play is entertaining. Conversely when Butz leaves the stage, it feels as if the air has been sucked out of it - but that’s for later.
Butz plays Jack, a midwesterner who’s inexplicably returned from NYC to his Indiana home . He’s come without his wife (played by Judy Greer) Perhaps he’s come to see his ailing father, yet he never visits with the man (who remains unseen offstage.) Perhaps he’s come to offer solace to his mother, the divine though underused Jayne Houdyshell, or to share some of the family responsibilities with Lorna (Katie Holmes,) his one sibling still living at home.
Jack returns, toting several pints of ice cream for which he paid $1000. His sister is bewildered by his quixotic behavior but eventually the mystery is revealed when Butz’s wife appears. Jack has embezzled $27 million. She urges him to return to NY to deal with his crime. Although she sounds like a concerned spouse, he suggests that she just wants her share. He claims that the money belonged to no one since he siphoned the funds from dead accounts, bank accounts where the owners were deceased or missing. He just wants his wife back but that relationship is dead, like the bank accounts.
I kept waiting for something significant to happen. Except for the final connection between Jack’s old friend Phil (Josh Hamilton) and Lorna at the end, little to nothing happens. Obviously the title has more significance than just the bank accounts but by the time ended, I didn’t really care. Although Jack is fun in his manic ways, none of the characters draw us in.
The down side of fame is that a performer whose name generates ticket sales is scrutinized differently and sometimes more intently than the average actor. Though adorable to look at, Holmes is unimpressive. Watching Holmes is like watching a high school performer on a big Broadway stage. But quite frankly, any actor can easily pale compared to Butz. Few performers can match in his intensity, skill and pure talent. The man is a tornado, a dervish, from his grins to his Amadeus-like maniacal laugh to his foot tapping and pacing.
Butz is fun, Houdyshell is wasted, Holmes erratic and Rebeck’s show is unsatisfying. Too little happens in Dead Accounts and though advertised as a comedy, this play may leave you wondering why it feels so flat. Sadly the title Dead Accounts describes the play as well as the bank deposits.