Katie Holmes, Plain Jane; Redgrave; ‘Asher Lev’: Review

'Dead Accounts'
Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holmes in "Dead Accounts," a new comedy by Theresa Rebeck. The play is running on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre. Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Katie Holmes is fine, if oddly cast, as the diet-obsessed homebody sister of a hopped-up embezzler in “Dead Accounts,” an all-too-aptly-titled entry in one of the worst seasons in memory for new shows on Broadway.

Set in a leafy Cincinnati suburb, Theresa Rebeck’s unfunny comedy concerns a prodigal son who’s returned to Ohio from Manhattan after stealing $27 million from inactive accounts at the bank where he works.

Arriving home late at night, Jack (the terrific clown Norbert Leo Butz, here reduced to speed-freakish self-parody) has paid an after-hours store cleaner $1,000 for several pints of Graeter’s ice cream, a prized local specialty.

This is not Cincinnati, but “Cincinnati” -- a caricature of the flyover between the coasts, where wine is dispensed from a box and a snobby visitor sneers, “Linoleum, it’s not a myth.”

Rebeck’s “Manhattan” is similarly comic-book tired (“What’s a Babbo?” one rube asks), described by Jack as a hostile place absent trees, air and human contact, if abundant with steaks “that I dream about to this day.”

Another Visitor

He’s on the lam from a stuck-up wife (Judy Greer) who shows up late in the game -- not to turn him in but to claim her share of his spoils.

Rebeck (primetime TV’s Broadway soap opera “Smash”) has a biting wit and a black sense of relations between the sexes that we saw in last year’s wicked, if equally unbelievable “Seminar.”

“Dead Accounts,” on the other hand, seems phoned in, the kind of TV sitcom Rebeck herself can tear into with delicious spleen.

The squandered talent extends to director Jack O’Brien, who fails to make anything here seem fresh; as well as to Jane Houdyshell as Jack and Lorna’s mother, and Josh Hamilton as Jack’s slacker friend.

There’s also an unseen father upstairs fighting a losing battle against kidney stones. He had a better time than I did.

At the Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: *

Vanessa Redgrave

Vanessa Redgrave spent Wednesday and Thursday evenings at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, leading a reading of excerpts from “A World I Loved: The Story of an Arab Woman.”

An account of a privileged upbringing and four decades spent running a girls’ school in Beirut, “A World” is by Wadad Makdisi Cortas, whose son-in-law was the late, revered Columbia literature professor Edward Said. His widow and daughter also participated in the presentation, along with Nadim Sawalha.

That it’s laced with anti-Israel venom is no more surprising than Redgrave’s involvement. Her activism on behalf of Palestinians is long-lived and, I believe, heartfelt.

What does surprise is the involvement of the Public Theater in this event. Not because of the show’s intellectual dishonesty -- memoirs are memoirs, after all -- but because the performance I saw was so thoroughly soporific despite being embellished with a girls’ chorus from the exclusive Spence School and a trio playing Beethoven and Bach. (Closed; No rating).

Asher Lev

The title also provides the first line of “My Name Is Asher Lev,” Aaron Posner’s adaptation of the popular 1972 novel by Chaim Potok about a Hasidic Jew whose worldly success as a modern artist puts him in painful conflict with his deeply observant parents and their Brooklyn community.

Ari Brand is engaging as Asher, beginning as an inquisitive, gifted child and later navigating a fate he cannot renounce. Mark Nelson and Jenny Bacon play Asher’s parents, as well as many other roles, with varying levels of distinction.

Eugene Lee’s sky-lit set, grittily illuminated by James F. Ingalls, exquisitely evokes the story’s several disparate milieus.

The play is earnest and serious but the performance is dramatically inert and rarely moving, even under the sensitive direction of Gordon Edelstein.

At the Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include movies and New York weekend.

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