Theresa Rebeck’s "Dead Accounts" is on Broadway, loaded with stars -- including two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz in the lead as an unscrupulous Wall Street go-getter who has landed back home in Cincinnati, lavishing ill-gotten gains on his family, among them his unglamorous, stay-at-home sister, played by Katie Holmes.
The play, Holmes' first acting gig since her divorce from Tom Cruise, began its life as a non-glitzy homecoming offering. The playwright grew up near Cincinnati, and the city's top regional company, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, commissioned her to tell a story set locally. It premiered in January.
Rebeck is the creator of the NBC television series "Smash," among other screen credits, and her plays regularly surface on prominent stages in L.A. "Seminar" was a recent Broadway import for the Ahmanson Theatre, "Poor Behavior" premiered last year at the Mark Taper Forum, and "Mauritius" was a 2009 attraction for the Pasadena Playhouse.
The comedy opened Thursday, directed by three-time Tony winner Jack O’Brien, and with one exception, the critics panned it. The stars driving the effort (Judy Houdyshell and Judy Greer are also on board) escaped more or less unscathed. It was their vehicle that crashed, and Rebeck got the blame.
The Los Angeles Times’ Charles McNulty lamented "the slapdash quality of the writing," the resulting "amped-up TV sitcom manner" of the production, and the lack of a thematic payoff: "Rebeck wants the profundity of mortality and her easy laughs too. She comes up empty-handed."
He was OK with Holmes’ "charming, natural" presence, and praised Butz’s "frenetic gusto," adding "but not even he can transcend the contrived nature of a character who is really nothing more than a collection of manic playwriting impulses."
Ben Brantley in the New York Times found Holmes improved from her "a tad unsteady" Broadway debut four years ago in Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," noting that she "appears much more at ease" in a role that requires her to be "gamely unkempt and lumpen." The best thing he could say for the play was that "for at least its first 15 minutes [it] does manage to command your attention." After that, he wrote, "'Dead Accounts'" makes you forget a lot of things, like why you've bothered to come to the show to begin with."
Newsday's Linda Winer was left wondering "how did Holmes and a bushel of theater talents ... 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?"
Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News wrote that he's a Rebeck fan, but "unfortunately Holmes' efforts add up to zilch. The stillborn comedy she's in is so stupefyingly unfocused that it plays like a draft, not a finished work."
The New York Post's Elisabeth Vincentelli was keen on Butz, down on Holmes ("she's got one note -- shrill, impatient -- and yells it at top volume, making a vein bulge in her slender neck") and really down on Rebeck: "While the producers were busy signing up Katie Holmes and Norbert Leo Butz, playwright Theresa Rebeck forgot to write a show."
Only Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal was forgiving: "For all its manifest flaws, Ms. Rebeck's new play is seldom predictable and never boring, and her cast ... glitters like sapphires on black velvet. If it's perfection you want, go elsewhere, but you'll miss out on an exceedingly interesting night at the theater."