Norbert Leo Butz is no stranger to playing shady characters, from the con artist in the musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (for which he won a Tony) to real-life felon Jeffrey Skilling in Enron. In Dead Accounts, Theresa Rebeck’s engaging but unsatisfying new dramedy, he brings a fast-talking charm to a New York banker named Jack who suddenly shows up at his parents’ suburban Cincinnati home with suspicious stacks of cash. In the linoleum-floored kitchen, he deflects inquiries from his super-Catholic mom (a reliably dowdy Jayne Houdyshell) and his kid sister Lorna (Katie Holmes), who’s helping care for their ailing offstage dad.
With the exception of Jack, though, the characters are as thin as old dish towels. Holmes, effortlessly sympathetic in an underwritten role as a dithering thirtysomething, tears into a populist rant against banks (”They’ve been behaving very badly and they act like it doesn’t matter”) and flirts playfully with Jack’s still-in-Ohio high school pal Phil (Josh Hamilton). Though the willowy Holmes may not be plausible as a diet-conscious regular gal, that may change by the end of the show’s limited run, given all the chili dogs and ice cream she consumes on stage.
To some, Rebeck, whose Broadway comedy Seminar ran for seven months last season, is best known for NBC’s Smash, the campy inside-Broadway drama that she created (and subsequently left). The first act of Dead Accounts plays like a claustrophobically staged TV pilot, goosed by the arrival of Jack’s chilly wife (Judy Greer) and a big reveal just before intermission. But Act 2 is like the second episode of a 13-show season, ending on a mini-catharsis as modest as a churchgoing Midwesterner. A full season (or further re-writing) might have allowed Rebeck to flesh out her promising setup, but this wisp of a show pays steep penalties for premature withdrawal. B?
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)