by: Sandi Durell

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and knowledge of reality. Using this simile, if Jack (two time Tony Winner, Norbert Leo Butz) acquires monies from dead accounts (people who are gone leaving monies in unclaimed bank accounts), is he an embezzler, a thief? A question to be pondered!

Theresa Rebeck’s dramedy, at the Music Box Theatre, directed by Jack O’Brien, finds a nervous, high strung Jack arriving in the middle of the night to his childhood home in suburban Cinncinnati, with armfuls of pints of his favorite local Graeter’s ice cream and pockets full of money. He’s fleeing New York because, over a two year period of working in a financial institution on Wall Street, he’s accumulated $27 million from the “dead accounts.” In pursuit is his rich, cold socialite wife, Jenny (Judy Greer), unliked by Jack’s family, who is divorcing him but also wants her share of the loot. For a supposed socialite, her behavior and dress leave something to be desired. In the mix is a Mayflower teapot, a wedding present from Jenny’s father to which Jack claims half interest.

In the middle-America kitchen (scenic design David Rockwell) Jack is chatting up his drab looking sister Lorna (Katie Holmes) who eventually gives in to the soothing sensation of the delicious treat even though she is on a diet. Well, who isn’t, even if you’re the long, lean and lovely looking Holmes, the movie star. The family is rounded out by Mom Barbara, the terrific (Jayne Houdyshell) who spouts religion and church, is a warm, fuzzy character, but is mainly engaged with a sick husband passing a painful kidney stone (whom we don’t see). Old friend, the meek and mild Phil (Josh Hamilton) listens to Jack’s rantings of a Sodom and Gomorrah New York City lifestyle. Phil has been silently in love with Lorna since high school, 20 years ago, when he last asked her out.

There’s lots of talking over one another while Lorna is on the phone with one of her siblings, as Mom is busily spouting off about this n’ that. Butz is manic-zany, an explosive ready to and does happen, as we are first led to believe he’s killed Jenny. “The truth is complicated” says he.

Bringing Katie Holmes’celebrity (recent divorcee from Tom Cruise) into the mix is surely what producers see as a sure fire winner but the basic storyline should be bottom line and that’s what’s lacking. This is a story about money, corruption, death, God, small town vs. big city and philosophical truths that are put on a back burner to get the instant laughs that Rebeck’s play can and does elicit. However, nothing in the plot is ever fully developed.

There’s no doubt that Butz gives an outstanding performance and we are easily taken with his brilliance as an actor. Holmes, too, is likeable as a frumpy Midwesterner young woman, hair upswept and messy, still living at home with her parents. We do get one small inkling into her beauty when love blooms between her and Phil and she lets her hair down, tossing it to and fro.

There are a series of truisms and trite-isms: “We are nothing, money is the only thing. We are reptiles, no boundaries, just hunger” – – “God’s benediction on a bad day – ice cream!”

“Dead Accounts”  Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street, Manhattan, (212) 239-6200, telecharge.com