With her marriage to Tom Cruise firmly ensconced in the rearview mirror, Katie Holmes has returned to Broadway to star in Theresa Rebeck's "Dead Accounts."
But the "Dawson's Creek" actress who will forever be synonymous with one mega-star's epic Oprah freakout, got credit from many critics for giving it the proverbial college try -- although most reviewers savaged the production.
"Dead Accounts" centers on a hotshot Wall Street-type (Norbert Leo Butz) who returns to his Cincinnati home with a dark secret. Holmes plays his sister who is still living at home and nursing their father through a kidney stones attack. It marks her second appearance on the Great White Way after a tepidly received turn in a 2008 revival of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons."
"Dead Accounts," which also stars Josh Hamilton and Jane Houdyshell, premiered Thursday at the Music Box Theatre.
In the New York Times, Ben Brantley was surprisingly gentle in his treatment of Holmes even as he dripped acid over Rebeck's attempt to say something profound about America's post-Recession doldrums.
"Let me assure you that Ms. Holmes, who was a tad unsteady in her Broadway debut four years ago in Arthur Miller's 'All My Sons,' appears much more at ease playing a worn-down country mouse to the hyped-up city mouse of Mr. Butz," he wrote. "Gamely unkempt and lumpen, Ms. Holmes suggests what might have happened to Joey Potter, the ultimate girl-next-door she once portrayed on TV in 'Dawson's Creek,' had she never found true love or left town."
His overall assessment of the action onstage was far more dire, faulting it for devolving "...into a limp chain of anticlimaxes."
Also declaring "Dead Accounts" D.O.A. was New York magazine, which, in an unbylined piece, compared Rebeck to Tyler Perry for white people (sorry, "Madea Goes to Jail" fans, it's not a compliment). However the critic was charitable in assessing the third Mrs. Cruise.
"Holmes is insanely miscast but sunnily game in the role of a ground-down never-was with body image issues and a crater where her confidence should be," the reviewer wrote.
Those relatively benign notices aside, some critics were clearly sharpening the kitchen-ware for Holmes. In the New York Post, Elisabeth Vincentelli took a cleaver to the actress and the play.
"She's got one note — shrill, impatient — and yells it at top volume, making a vein bulge on her slender neck. (A recurring joke about Lorna going on a diet falls flat.)," Vincentelli wrote.
Of the play, the Post critic said it should be back to the drawing board; "With its cardboard characters and implausible developments, 'Dead Accounts' feels like a rough first draft."
Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune was far kinder when it came to Rebeck's writing, admiring her for taking on weighty topics, even as he complained she often fell flat in her execution. His views on Holmes were harder to decipher. Though never pejorative, Jones seemed to feel that Holmes' tabloid past interfered with her stage work. Still, he was intrigued by the way her own Midwestern background intermingled with that of her character.
"'Dead Accounts' hints at the very worthwhile notion that two Americas have grown up alongside each other, one in the thrall of religion, the other of money," Jones wrote. "Holmes, one suspects, knows a good deal more about that kind of stuff than her character ever gets to say here."
People Magazine's Tom Gliatto praised Holmes' for doing what she could with an underwritten role. He didn't exactly make her seem Tony bound, but he argued that the fault rests more with the script than the actress.
"Holmes gets her moments in the second act: Lorna is given a simple, tender monologue about planting a tree when she was a child, followed by a full-throttle, over-the-top tirade against money, banks and fiduciary wickedness," Gliatto wrote. "Holmes gets a big laugh there, but you have the nagging realization that the little memory about the tree slipped by without registering emotionally – that it was a lot more meaningful than the tirade, and that Holmes should have been directed to dig deeper. Or that Rebeck, creator of NBC's Smash, should have written deeper."