There’s a lot of poignancy in Theresa Rebeck’s new play I Need That. Yet much like the house inhabited by the leading character, Sam (Danny DeVito), you’ll have to rummage through an abundance of excess dialogue before the real treasures are found.
Sam is a somewhat curmudgeonly but irresistible soul who clings to all of the stuff in his suburban New Jersey home. In spite of daughter Amelia’s (Lucy DeVito) proclamation that the fire and health department are planning to condemn the place and force eviction if he doesn’t tidy up, he stubbornly holds his ground. Even his good friend Foster (Ray Anthony Thomas) can’t seem to convince him to declutter.
In time, we learn—and in some cases relate- to the fact that his tangible objects are inextricably linked to past memories of people and places he once loved. There is a story behind each item, and we’ll get to hear each one of them throughout the 90 minutes. We also come to understand why Sam refuses to set foot outside and would rather be a self-made hostage in his own rubble.
Rebeck does a fine job of marking generational differences. For seventy-something Sam, keeping objects connects him to the past; the future is otherwise too scary. Amelia adopts a millennial mindset and is convinced that stuff is simply a reason for corporations to make more money (although she too is withholding a secret. So is Foster.)
Director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel directs with a gentle hand and allows for some tender moments. Yet too often, I Need That clings to a message that has been told repeatedly in dramatic works ever since smartphones and apps began to rule our lives: We crave and need human connection. It’s a noble and vital observation but in 2023, does not feel that fresh. Never mind the fact that we continue to ignore it at our peril.
I Need That is undeniably a star vehicle for Danny DeVito and he is still as spry and humorous as ever. Having his actual daughter share the stage with him makes the show even more special. Thomas delivers some snappy retorts and has some nice chemistry with/ the leading man but together, this trio could get to the heart of the matter much faster. Overall, it’s a pleasant enough play, but it won’t stand out as the season’s must-see event.
I Need That is now playing on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre (227W. 42nd Street) through December 30th. For tickets and information, click here.