Reasons to see 'I Need That' on Broadway

Danny DeVito is in his comic element as Sam, a hoarder who must clean up his act and his house, in this touching play by Pulitzer Prize finalist Theresa Rebeck.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

Life gets messy, despite our desire for it to always be picture-perfect. Playwright Theresa Rebeck takes that idea and runs full-tilt with it in her new Broadway comedy I Need That, starring Danny DeVito as Sam, a New Jersey widower whose physical surroundings reflect his emotional state.

It’s not a pretty picture: Sam’s a hoarder. A neighbor snapped photos of his junk-strewn residence and reported him to the authorities. He’s got to get things shipshape in a week, or he’s out on his ear.

DeVito turns in a performance stuffed with talent, and he's not the only reason to check out I Need That on Broadway.

I Need That lands laughs and dives a bit deeper.

Sam’s predicament — and the high stakes — become clear quickly. Rebeck has a talent for blending comedy and drama within her characters, whether it’s a toxic writer at the core of her play Seminar or the wannabe Broadway stars of TV’s Smash. The author mostly maintains a lighthearted mood in I Need That, but Rebeck stirs in darker, more serious incidents and revelations about Sam’s family in the production directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel.

I Need That plays to Danny DeVito’s strengths.

Short in stature but tall in charisma that beams far beyond the footlights, DeVito, a Tony nominee for The Price, brings gobs of goodwill to every role. He also brings an innate gleeful mischievousness that he flips on like a switch. He works that magic in I Need That, particularly when Sam plays a potty-mouthed solo round of the board game Sorry! Sam can be irascible and difficult to deal with, much like Taxi dispatcher Louie DePalma, the actor’s signature, Emmy-winning role.

His friend Foster (Ray Anthony Thomas) and exasperated daughter Amelia, (Lucy DeVito, Danny's daughter) just can’t convince him of the gravity of his situation. Stuff simply must go. Deciding what gets the heave-ho and what stays, says Sam, is a “Sophie’s choice.” It’s a sly wisecrack, and only later do we realize why discarding possessions agonizes him.

I Need That whips up a world of chaotic clutter.

Scenic designer Alexander Dodge has done lots of great work on Broadway, earning Tony nominations for Present Laughter and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. To say that his work in this play looks like a cluttered junk heap is actually praise. Sam’s house is packed with clutter — here, there, on the stairs. It’s not too much of a spoiler to reveal that the house gets a transformation, much like Sam.

When I saw the play, there were a couple of technical hiccups in the automated set, which stubbornly refused to turn — twice. That’s when DeVito stepped out of character and made a crack about “live theatre.” Like life, it can get messy, but the chaos made perfect sense for this play.

Get tickets to I Need That on Broadway.

Right now, we could all use a laugh. I Need That lets you indulge your taste for something light — and see a favorite comedy actor in his element. See the play before it, like Sam's stuff, gets out of the house — that is, the American Airlines Theatre — on December 30.

Photo credit: Danny DeVito in I Need That. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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