“Dead Accounts,” the new play by Theresa Rebeck, which focuses on family and felony, has not received wonderful reviews, but I found it warm, funny and interesting. Norbert Leo Butz is smashing, as he always is, this time as Jack, the fast-talking son who has just returned from New York City to his home in Cincinnati, Ohio. Butz is full of energy, as if an electric current is running through his body. In the first scene, while he gobbles up pints of ice cream at 2 a.m., he talks to his sister Lorna, played by the very cute Katie Holmes, who seems a lot less awkward here than she did in “All My Sons,” a number of seasons ago. When he tells this homespun girl that he has given $1,000 to the server to open the shop and give him his favorite icy treat, Lorna is appalled. “This is illegal,” she says. Little does she know what illegal is! The best is yet to come.
Jack is aided and abetted by his best friend, Phil, the lanky Josh Hamilton, who brings in boxes of “cheesie” burgers and joins them at the kitchen table. In a fairly predictable move, he is urged by Jack to ask his Lorna out; he counters that he did so 12 years ago, she turned him down and he lost the nerve to do so since. Lorna, not married, has been taking care of her parents; her dad is upstairs suffering from kidney stones and other serious ailments. He is never seen. Her mom, Barbara, a part Jayne Houdyshell imbues with an earth mother's plainspoken Catholic philosophy and love, is well aware that her husband is in trouble, but is in denial.
The confession that Jack is leaving the comfortable life of a banker, getting a divorce from his wife, Jenny, a statuesque Judy Greer, who's disliked by the whole family, and has stolen 27 million dollars, stuns mom and sister. His attitude is rather amazing. He has taken money from accounts where the people had died and left the funds to no one. Therefore, he does not have to return them. Jenny wants him to bring the money back to the bank, so she can have one half-community property. Lorna feels he must return the money to the bank- it is the right thing to do. His mom wants him to donate it to the poor. Quite a quagmire.
This is where the play bogs down a bit. Of course, Jack has been comparing the joys of Cincinnati--the best ice cream the best trees--to the problems he has had in New York and this may have been an act of revenge. But another dimension should have been added to flesh things out. We are left wondering what Jack will really do, will dad survive, will they ever talk to each other?
David Rockwell's Scenic Design lit by David Weiner is first rate; Catherine Zuber's costumes are perfect for the time. However, Jack O'Brien's direction is the cleverest. Between scenes, the actors change their clothes on stage and move props on and off stage, the stage goes dark and the next scene begins.
“Dead Accounts” at The Music Box through February 24. I had never heard of these funds, but I tend to side with Jack. Who knew?!