By: Paulanne Simmons
November 11, 2023: When the curtain rises at the American Airlines Theater and we see Alexander Dodge’s set, a room stuffed with furniture, boxes, books and years of hoarded objects, we’re pretty much given all we need to know about Theresa Rebeck’s new play, I Need That.
Certainly Danny DeVito as the elderly Sam, makes the most of the playwright’s sharper jokes. And his banter with the two other characters in the play, his daughter, Amelia (Lucy DeVito), and his friend, Foster (Ray Anthony Thomas), is at times engaging. But none of this gives us any really new or interesting information about the characters or their problems. Director Maritz von Stuelpnagel cannot do much to save this production.
Sam, a widower who has not gotten over the death of his wife, has clearly let his life fall apart. His home is such a mess the town authorities are prepared to evict him if he doesn’t clean up. Foster offers to help. But Foster has his own problems, which at one point, Rebeck teases us into believing may threaten their friendship.
We learn even less about Amelia. Rebeck is more interested in one-liners than the long haul of creating characters. Fortunately she has DeVito, who, if he cannot exactly save the play, at least makes much of it bearable and occasionally funny. Certainly his one-man game of Sorry!, complete with the joys and sorrows of good and not-so-good moves is a work of comic genius.
Towards the end of the play, Rebeck serves up some real surprises, but they seem to be more an effort to tie up the mess than anything related to the actual characters. It’s almost as if the playwright suddenly remembered everything she left out and knows she only has a few more minutes before the lights go out.
I Need That is like a ship lost at sea looking for a port while the stern gets loaded with more and more cargo until it finally sinks.
I Need That runs through December 30 at American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42 Street.
Photography: Joan Marcus