It’s lovely to see an actress grow, even one who already has more celebrity than she wants.
So to see Katie Holmes turn in such a good performance in Theresa Rebeck’s “Dead Accounts” at Broadway’s The Music Box, is lovely.
Last time Holmes was on Broadway in “All My Sons” she screamed whenever the part called for her to emote. Now, she does yell — when called for. She also works herself up to tears and it’s all completely believable. Holmes has matured into a stage actress, and this a great part for her.
She’s playing Lorna, a daughter of the Midwest, who lives with her parents, mom (Broadway vet Jayne Houdyshell) and her unseen, ailing father. Lorna is sweet, dependable, disappointed and, above all, nice.
Nice is important in this play in which playwright Rebeck (Broadway’s “Seminar,” TV’s “Smash”) paints Midwesterners as nice, and New Yorkers as not. Repeatedly.
Norbert Leo Butz, who has won two Tonys (“Catch Me If You Can” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) and deserved recognition for other plays since debuting in “Rent” is nothing short of magnificent as Jack, Lorna’s brother, who surprises the family with a visit. He summons this ferocious, manic energy from the start.
He’s essentially a New York runaway; Jack had a huge job and a big life there. What happened to his wife is a question and he hints that he could have killed her. The play opens with Jack and Lorna gorging on ice cream. He’s in his rumpled Armani suit and amped up.
Barbara (Houdyshell) is a typical mom of six of her generation. She enjoys reminiscing about her children — Jack was brilliant, Lorna smart, but not like Jack – and is in constant touch with her offspring, possibly more so than usual because her husband is so sick.
Eventually we meet Jenny, Jack’s estranged wife, the marvelous Judy Greer (TV’s “Arrested Development” “Two and a Half Men”), who does not have enough to do except be humorless and superior. Josh Hamilton, (New York theater “The Cherry Orchard” and TV’s “Louie”) who plays Jack’s childhood pal with a lifelong crush on Lorna, also does not have enough to do. Yet both actors make the most of what they do have.
Jenny explains that Jack has stolen $27 million from the bank where he works. Asked if he embezzled, Jack responds, “There are similarities.”
His mom says, “Is that the explanation?”
Jack does explain about dead accounts, and how no one will miss the money. But Jenny, whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower and has grown up extremely wealthy, understands how this money must be returned – even if not precisely to the bank.
As Jenny surveys Barbara’s kitchen – a kitchen pretty much like most middle-class kitchens throughout the United States – she sneers to a friend on the phone: “Why do people live in houses like this – in the Midwest? Linoleum – it’s not a myth.”
In this play,commissioned and originally produced by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, people in Cincinnati, where this is set, have values and care about one another. They work hard, tend to their homes and neighbors, eat real food and are kind. In New York, people scam for money, don’t care about where they live or their neighbors and judge.
There’s some truth in all generalities, and the reason any humor works is because of that. The lines are glib. But, come on! Maybe it’s being a native New Yorker, from a blue-collar family (we do exist in New York), who’s always known and cared about her neighbors. Yeah, OK, we judge, but only if your shoes are really hideous or you’re wearing a scrunchie.
The play is drawing mixed reviews, and that’s understandable. Some have noted the kitchen drama goes nowhere, that the lines fall flat. Others are dazzled by Holmes’ star power. I find myself somewhere in the middle. There are good lines, Holmes is beautiful — even when trying to be dowdy — and the play could use more of an ending and feel less like it is written only for those who love to hate New York.