My wife and I were back in New York last week to take in some theater — four shows in three days — including Danny DeVito in “I Need That,” a new play by Theresa Rebeck.
He plays Sam, a man with a house so full of stuff, it probably qualifies him as a hoarder. He doesn’t see himself that way, of course. Having lost his wife a few years earlier, he just wants to stay inside, not bothering the rest of the world, and wishing it wouldn’t bother him.
His daughter Amelia (Lucy DeVito) and best friend Foster (Ray Anthony Thomas) have been urging him to get rid of the clutter, but he insists he’s “still organizing.” The matter has become more urgent because the woman across the street can see the junk inside has begun spilling out onto the front porch, and he hasn’t mowed his lawn in a very long time. She has reported Sam to the health department and the fire department, who are probably going to evict him in a few days.
None of this plays out as a mental health crisis. It’s mostly played for laughs, and there are plenty of them. Danny knows how to wring every last chuckle out of the audience. After all, he’s been doing it for fifty years, although this is only his second stage play. He was exactly as great as we expected, particularly during one set piece in which, alone on stage, he acted as all four players in the board game Sorry, with running commentary alternating between glee and gloating.
Lucy, his real-life daughter, inherited her father’s comic timing and gives as good as she gets. But for me, it’s the chemistry between the two male characters that makes the story work, with just the right mixture of humor, compassion, and long-lost memories brought back to the surface.
Rebeck wrote “I Need That” as a crisp, ninety-minute showcase for both of the DeVitos, and with direction by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, it never slumps as the threesome work their way around the very crowded set.
We saw the show on its last preview day and I couldn’t help noticing Danny’s reaction to the huge ovation he and his co-stars received at the curtain call. It was the look of a man who knew he had yet another winner.