By David Walters
Roundabout Theatre Company specifically commissioned Theresa Rebeck to write I Need That with the DeVito’s in mind. It’s the story of a widower who had spent years watching his wife slowly disappear but stayed right by her side throughout. She’s now physically gone and he’s not sure who he is anymore, hanging on to every little thing as proof of a life lived. We’re a couple years out from her passing and the house that Sam (Danny DeVito) lives in is now too cluttered with remembrances. It’s all becoming a hazard to himself (he’s beginning to fall) and the neighborhood property values. Both his friend (Ray Anthony Thomas) of thirty years, and his daughter (Lucy DeVito), do what they can to get him to begin the process of cleaning the massive piles as the government is about to step in and remove him from his property.
The set by Alexander Dodge is wonderful. It’s a large multi-bedroom house that is filled to the rafters with all that can be collected during a lifetime of never purging. It spins on a turntable at one point to reveal the outside of the two-story house and reveals the neglect that it has suffered as well. Unfortunately, that was one of the biggest wows of the production.
Each actor in this three-hander gets a chance to monologue, revealing personal long-held truths for the first time, and the opportunity to open windows to the soul that have long been closed. The breeze that comes in doesn’t amount to much and it kind of becomes a, “My turn now,” kind of storytelling that emanates from outside the characters as written and is not organic. The actors are first-rate in trying their damnedest to ride the through-lines that Rebeck has given them. I’m not sure of the gestation of this play, but it doesn’t appear to be finished, as there are incongruencies and open questions, that despite the mounds of detritus, are left unanswered. Danny DeVito needs a Broadway house, but this is a much smaller play and would do well in a more intimate setting. With a little more crafting it could become something.
The only reason I would suggest going is to see Danny DeVito live on stage. In a tuned-down, uncharacteristically pleasant take (he does get to play the game Sorry by himself, and the irascible Danny that we all know and love comes out there) on the character Sam, he deals with his only friend’s break in trust, learning that his daughter is more like him than he would want, and realizing where he’s got to at this point in his life.
I Need That, written by Theresa Rebeck and directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel.
Now playing at Broadway’s American Airlines Theatre for a limited run.
Cast: Danny DeVito, Lucy DeVito, Ray Anthony Thomas
Running time: 1 hr 40 min (no intermission)
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.