dead accounts

Jack (Chase Ellsworth, center) comes home to visit mother Barbara (Caroline May, left) and sister Lorna (Reagan Seiler, right) in “Dead Accounts.” Standing are wife Jenny (Maddie Barnette, left) and hometown friend Phil (Griffin DeClaire).

It’s the sort of family reunion that makes one squirm to live through or, if on the outside, laugh at the familiarity of it: The child who returns to a smaller hometown after life in the big city.

In the case of “Dead Accounts,” the Theresa Rebeck play presented Thursday through Saturday at Baylor’s Theatre 11, the child is Jack (Chase Ellsworth), a well-to-do New York banker, and home is his family in Cincinnati: mother Barbara (Caroline May) and sister Lorna (Reagan Seiler), who stayed at home to care for their ailing father.

There’s the predictable clash of cultures — cosmopolitan New York and straight-laced Midwestern — as Jack comes to confess that maybe his family was right about New York and the woman he married. Then his wife Jenny (Maddie Barnette) shows up with an explanation for where Jack’s money came from — and why he’s leaving New York.

At the same time, Lorna revisits her past when Jack’s friend Phil (Griffin DeClaire), who once had a crush on her, drops in for a visit.

Director and theater graduate student Valerie Williams, 42, said Rebeck’s way with realistic dialogue and situations drew her to “Dead Accounts.” “She writes in the way we talk. It feels realistic,” she said. At the same time, the playwright works in a deeper meaning below the surface laughs. “The characters have a lot of love for each other. Some follow that feeling and others deny it . . . but you needed the journey to appreciate it,” she said.

Dead accounts, by the way, is a banking term for accounts gone dormant or inactive, often because of the owner’s death or departure. That’s a plot point, but also a metaphor for some of the play’s relationships, the director said.

Many credits

Rebeck’s a prolific writer with multiple outlets: More than two dozen plays and one-acts. Television scripts for “NYPD Blue,” “L.A. Law,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” and “Brooklyn Bridge.” Film work for “Harriet the Spy.”

She most recently was executive producer for the television series “Smash” and has won writing awards from the Mystery Writers of America and the Writers Guild of America.

Rebeck’s style shows that experience in sharp dialogue, realistic characters and tight scenes, the director said.

Williams is a Midwesterner herself, a native Minnesotan who studied at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona and worked for several years as education director and grant writer with the Great River Shakespeare Festival.

She’s not the only one who resonates with the material. One of her actors is from Cincinnati while others see family members in the play’s characters.

“Everybody says Barbara is their mother,” she laughed.

The play has some strong language — it’s that New York influence, you know — but it’s played for laughs, Williams said.

“Dead Accounts” is staged in the round at Theatre 11 in Baylor’s Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Tickets available at baylor.edu/theatre or at 710-1865.

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor