Saturday, November 11, 2023

I Need That - Broadway

Connections are at the root of playwright Theresa Rebeck’s modest new show on Broadway, I Need That.  Danny DeVito stars as Sam, a shut-in and hoarder, who seems to have only one friend, Foster, along with Amelia, his anxious and overwrought daughter.  Sam’s house is about to be condemned because of the mess inside and out.  No amount of pleading by Amelia and Foster moves him any closer to cleaning the accumulated chaos.  Why?  The objects serve a dual purpose – they bring forth memories of his youth that he doesn’t want to lose and they form an unspoken connection between him and his recently departed wife.  The teetering assemblage of books, a bottle cap, an electric guitar, and an array of classic board games dredge up memories he does not wish to forget. 

There is much angst, handwringing and confessions throughout the 100-minute, intermission-less show, but Rebeck relies on too many heartfelt stories to move the action along.  There just isn’t a lot of substance underneath the piles of dialog.  You also wonder what has been happening in the many intervening years with the three individuals.  Has Sam been estranged from his daughter?  Has she been a constant presence in his life?  Sam and Foster have known each other for over 30 years, but details emerge that such good friends would have known about each other.  Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel does give Danny DeVito room to operate and his schtick can be quite hilarious as when he narrates a game of Sorry he plays all by himself.  But even this scene, as inspired as it is, is overlong.
In the end, there is closure and harmony for all three characters.

Lucy DeVito, Danny DeVito’s real life daughter, is fine as Amelia.  At times, though, she can be a bit too high-strung.  Ray Anthony Thomas is solid as Foster, playing more the straight man to DeVito’s comic shenanigan’s.  Danny DeVito is masterful as Sam.  It’s a shame all his television and movie work have kept him away from the theater.  He is a superb performer with great stage presence.
Director von Stuelpnagel comes up with a lot of busy work for the performers – moving items from here to there, filling garbage bags.  Again, allowing Danny DeVito to let loose, as when he maneuvers a TV’s rabbit ears to get the set to momentarily work.  But the pacing can be slow and tiresome.
Besides Danny DeVito, the other star of the show is the Set Designer Alexander Dodge.  I would have loved to be a fly on the wall as he and his team mapped out the interior of the dilapidated home.  However, the true Broadway magic comes with the transformation at the end of the play.  How did they do what they did so quickly?
I Need That, playing on Broadway through December 30, 2023.

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