'Dead Accounts' review: A slim sitcom
Ridiculous, I know, to worry about Katie Holmes. She has beauty, money, family and appears to be a very nice person. Similarly, it feels silly to be concerned about playwright Theresa Rebeck. Yes, she was noisily dumped at "Smash," the TV show she created, but she's had five major productions here in the past six years. "Dead Accounts" -- Holmes' first move to establish herself as more than a celebrity divorcee -- is the sixth.
But 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.
He plays Jack, a fugitive New York hotshot, who mysteriously returns home pulling money and pills from his Armani pockets as if they were clown cars. Holmes is -- get this -- his plain sister, an inexplicable underachiever, ludicrously on a diet and caring for their not especially needy parents. Holmes, who made a respectable, if unspectacular, Broadway debut four years ago in "All My Sons," fades into the kitchen wallpaper during light comedy. But when her character toughens up in the more dramatic second act, so does she.
Even the wondrous Jayne Houdyshell -- in hair curlers, no less -- can't make the Catholic-mother cliche seem real, Judy Greer is bizarrely inelegant as Jack's estranged, rich New York wife, but Josh Hamilton has a quiet sweetness as Jack's high school friend.
There's a once-over-lightly theme about faith and money, along with mass quantities of comfort food and absurd generalizations about what people in the Midwest think. The kitchen set is cartoon ugly. The second act gets suddenly sappy about trees. O'Brien tries to art-up the scene changes with moody lights and different versions of "Sentimental Journey." This doesn't help.
WHAT "Dead Accounts"
WHERE Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St., Manhattan
INFO $67-$147; 212-239-6200; deadaccountsonbroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Miscast Holmes, sitcom play