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I Need That!

A group of people in a room with objects on the floor

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Ray Anthony Foster, Danny DeVito, Lucy DeVito (Photo: Joan Marcus)


I Need That!


By Julia Polinsky


A bright and cheerful, three-character, 100-minute/no-intermission play starring a famous tv/movie actor: sounds like a formula for a hit. The audience for the Roundabout Theatre's new production of I Need That responds as it should, laughing early and often at Theresa Rebeck's amusing one-liners, delivered in true sitcom style by Danny DeVito's familiar and lovable persona, as directed by Broadway luminary Moritz von Stuelpnagel. What's not to like?


Well, I Need That is actually the somewhat sad story of a lonely, elderly hoarder, Sam (Danny DeVito), whose neighbors have had enough. They have called the authorities to have Sam and his mess removed from his home. Although he has received letters of warning, Sam has ignored and/or tossed out any official communication. This has consequences; the fire department is coming soon, and a condemned Sam will be forcibly moved out.


Sam, still grieving the double loss of his wife - first from dementia, then her death -- can't let go of anything. Not the stacks of ancient National Geographic magazines, not the childhood board games, not his wife's books, his own piled-up laundry, the bric-a-brac of what seems like ten lifetimes squeezed into a small house.

A person holding a wire

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Danny DeVito (Photo: Joan Marcus)


Sam's mess, inside the house and out, is more than just mess; the house (superb scenic design by Alexander Dodge) seems about to collapse under the chaotic weight of Sam's stuff. This is Important stuff, he says. Stuff thick with memory, significance, attachment. It's valuable stuff! Who has not heard of the Old Guy who thinks his every possession is precious?


In I Need That, some of Sam's stuff indeed has value; more than one item in the room can be worth real money, not just valued for the memories attached to it. We watch Sam's one friend, Foster (Ray Anthony Thomas) steal a diamond ring from one of the many boxes of "contents," so we are not surprised when Foster later confesses his thefts.


Sam's just a guy who can't let go, not even when his daughter Amelia (Lucy DeVito, the actor's actual daughter) arrives and nags, harangues, badgers, practically weeps with rage to get Sam to clean up. Not even when Foster comes bearing food and genuinely seems to care for Sam, confesses to stealing from him. So what? Sam seems to say. I knew that. But you're my friend. It's OK. Please stay.


The disturbig prospect of an elderly man being made to leave his home because he's a mess is anything but cheerful. Yet in I Need That, well-honed performances from the DeVito family and the very likable Ray Anthony Thomas somehow make the scenario charming. That's a nice trick, and it takes performers as engaging as these to pull it off.


Of all the Stuff that Sam has invested with memory and importance, perhaps none is more significant than the boardgame Sorry! DeVito plays the game against himself, in a brilliant, tour-de-force set piece that feels as honest and raw as any theater moment ever. Surely, Rebeck chose this particular board game for Sam to play, as the weight of the word "sorry," echoes through Sam's relationships with daughter, his friend, and his grief for his late wife.


A person and person sitting on a bench

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Lucy DeVito, Danny DeVito (Photo: Joan Marcus)


Sam, Foster, and Amelia resolve many issues by the end of I Need That, and the audience is right there along with them. There are a couple of unexpected twists, some of which feel like they were included to pad out the show's running time, but in the end, the importance of Stuff falls below the importance of family, self-knowledge, and being ready to move on.


A feel-good 100 intermission-free minutes with lovely performances, I Need That rewards the audience with a delightful evening in the theater.


I Need That
American Airlines Theater

Through December 30
100 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $78 - $344