Father and Daughter DeVito in “I Need That”

I became an ardent fan of playwright Theresa Rebeck in 2007 with “Mauritius,” her Broadway debut. About a disputed inheritance of that British colony’s rare and extremely valuable 1847 postage stamps, the intriguing play’s surprise ending is exhilarating. (Bobby Cannavale and Alison Pill’s charismatic pairing didn’t hurt the production.) My admiration peaked in 2018 with her “Bernhardt/Hamlet,” about The Divine Sarah playing The Melancholy Dane in 1899. (Janet McTeer’s Bernhard was indeed divine.)

Now comes “I Need That,” Ms. Rebeck’s latest Broadway venture, courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company. Neither exhilarating nor divine, “I Need That” is about Sam (Danny DeVito) a three-year widowed man whose house is over-flowing with an excess of ‘stuff’ that would dismay even George Carlin. It is “not a hoarder’s space, but only a few steps away from it.” (Alexander Dodge’s set, decorated by prop supervisor Kathy Fabian, makes the point.)

Ray Anthony Thomas, Danny DeVito and Lucy DeVito  [Photo: Joan Marcus]

Despite the efforts of his daughter Amelia (Lucy DeVito, Danny’s actual daughter) and his friend Foster (Ray Anthony Thomas) to de-clutter him, Sam is content with things as they are. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” he declares, hardly originally. And of course, while it appears to be a messy jumble, Sam knows what and where everything is, including a 67-year-old bottle cap, a long-ago ‘found’ diamond engagement ring, and a gifted guitar, which all figure in the flimsy plot.

DeVito pére, convincing enough as the irascible collector, is hampered by the script’s dearth of humor. Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel might have tried to interject some variety of character and comedy, but “I Need That” is essentially a one-joke hour-and-a-half. A solo segment where Sam voices all the players of the board game Sorry goes on way too long – even if you know the game.

DeVito fille’s Amelia flits in and out of the piece with variations on clean-up-this-mess, but oddly enough, the two do not register as father and daughter until the curtain call. Mr. Thomas coasts through the functional best-friend role, giving Sam someone to banter with between Amelia’s visits. A few lines about institutional racism are shoehorned into their exchanges, and guilty secrets are revealed, but little of it has to do with the basic questions: Will Sam clean up his digs? Will he venture outside? Will he follow Amelia to Nebraska? If those issues seem pressing to you, then “I Need That” might be the play for you. For me, Danny DeVito’s Jersey Mike’s commercials are more fun.

Through Saturday, December 30 at American Airlines Theatre, 227West 42ndStreet NYC. Show schedule and tickets: www.roundaboutthheatre.org


A member of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), I had an extra ticket to the screening of Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” in September 2022. Scanning the standby line, I offered the ticket to a young woman whom I assumed was a student and alone. Skeptical at first, she asked to see the ticket before accepting my invitation.

Once seated, I asked if she was a student. She replied that no, she was an actress. On stage? “No,” she said, “I do movies.” I asked what I might have seen her in. “Do you watch the Marvel series on Disney-plus?” she asked. Nope, said I. Then I thought she said, “I’m in ‘Ms. Marvel’.”  I asked what role she played. “No,” she replied, realizing I had mis-heard: “I am Ms. Marvel. We’re filming a feature soon for release next year.”

And so the feature film “The Marvels” opened last weekend around the country. The Marvel franchise’s 33rd feature stars Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau, and, reprising her role as Ms. Marvel, Iman Vellani, my super-hero movie date. One critic noted that Iman “steals the show.” I’m not surprised.



Patrick Page Mines Shakespeare’s Dark Side: “All the Devils Are Here”

Most actors will tell you they would rather play the villain than the hero. The bad guys are often more complex, sometimes amusingly so, and they dominate their scenes. The appeal may be inborn. My friend’s twelve-year-old granddaughter coveted the role of Captain Hook in her middle school’s “Peter Pan.” (She was cast as a Pirate, which still beats being one of the Lost Boys.) In “All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain,” created and performed by Patrick Page, the actor explains and enacts sequences from Shakespeare’s stable of nefarious characters.

Dubbed by Playbill ‘The Villain of Broadway,’ based on his turns in “Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark” as Green Goblin, “Hadestown” (Hades), “The Lion King” (Scar) and others, Page is no stranger to the dark side. At the Shakespeare Theater Company in D. C. alone, he has played Iago, Claudius and Macbeth.  Qualified to guide us through a clutch of Shakespeare’s baddies? I guess so!

Patrick Page in “All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain” [Photos: Julieta Cervantes]

Despite “All the Devils…” sub-title, Shakespeare did not literally invent the villain, but as Page illustrates in his mesmerizing solo show, The Bard re-imagined theatrical villainy, humanizing what had been two-dimensional portrayals (masks indicating Gluttony or Greed, for example).

Identifying Shakespeare’s villains in the order of their creation, from Richard III’s debut in “Henry VI: Part III,” written in 1591, to Prospero in “The Tempest” (1611), Page illuminates the motivations for the evil doings of those two and of an inglorious handful in between. Richard III, Page explains, was born to be bad and knew it (“…counting myself but bad till be best”), while Prospero, bringing forbidden dark magic into play, exemplifies the common theme of revenge. Smoothly directed by Simon Godwin, the segments unfold with apparent ease.

“Hamlet” is the supreme “revenge tragedy,” wherein Claudius, acknowledging his fratricide, seeks absolution in a prayerful speech that Page recites to chilling effect: “O, my offense is rank…a brother’s murder.”

Iago, the very personification of villainy, gets his moment in a gripping segment with Page voicing both him and the duped Othello in the “…jealousy is the green-eyed monster” scene. The excerpt highlights Page’s sonorous vocal dexterity, about which anyone who saw Page in “Spider-Man” or “Hadestown” needs no reminders.

Prospero, Malvolio and Shylock are not your standard issue villains (not a cold-blooded murder among them), but Page exposes their dark sides and motivations: Prospero’s revenge for having been set adrift with his toddler daughter in a leaking boat; Shylock facing down pervasive antisemitism; and Malvolio’s absurd vision of his own grandeur. (Page’s reading of Malvolio’s forged love letter has never been funnier.)

Brief as it is or, more accurately, compact, “All the Devils” has much to offer students, teachers, and fans of Shakespeare. My professor at UPenn said that Shakespeare “knew everything about everything.” Based on Shylock’s excerpted “…if you wrong us [Jews], shall we not revenge?” and Page’s checklist of the traits of a psychopathic chief executive, referring to Richard and, obliquely, to our orange-haired one, Shakespeare indeed knew everything – four hundred years in advance!

Through January 7 at DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street, NYC. Schedule info and tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com

A personal note: This is my first posted review since last February, when I was diagnosed with lymphoma. After stints in hospital and a re-hab facility and a series of chemotherapy infusions, I am once again able to attend theater – and to write about it. What the future holds is unknown (except perhaps to Shakespeare), but meanwhile, it is good to be back.



Hey, What’s New? “Colin Quinn: Small Talk”

There is some practical insight in “Colin Quinn: Small Talk,” the actor/comic/writer’s solo standup gig at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village. Who knew, for example, that the key word in a successful small talk exchange is ‘yes,’ and that people who nod yes earn $40,000 more than people who shake no.

Quinn’s background includes writing for and appearing on SNL (1995-2000) and anchoring that show’s Weekend Update. Since then, he has become an off-Broadway stalwart, showcasing self-written and performed commentaries that range from zeroing in on a particular topic (the U.S. Constitution) to limitless fantasy (the history of the entire world). “Small Talk,” his eighth such outing, falls somewhere between.

Colin Quinn [Photos: Monique Carboni]

In the tradition of Jerry Seinfeld, who directed two of his previous pieces (including “Long Story Short,” on Broadway in 2010), Quinn has the intuition to spin ordinary topics and situations into comic gold – to make something out of, if not nothing, very little. Built around the ubiquity of tossed-off interactions that he likens to the horn-blowing of passing ships merely acknowledging each other, “Small Talk” makes hay out of instantly understood shorthand, opening at my performance with “Tuesday night in New York, right?”

But the exchange of ice-breaking small talk, he says, is a dying art, with young people no longer schooled in the form. Between dependence on smart phones and earbuds, “small talk is down 87 percent.” (In my apartment building, at least half of the ride-sharers are on their phones, eliminating the minor pleasures of remarks about the weather or the new lobby furniture.)

Somewhat ironically, Quinn’s monologue is most interesting in the half where he digresses from the title topic. A riff on iPhones points out that while Bill Gates developed an educational and work tool (turn off the computer when you leave the office), Seve Jobs put one in everyone’s pocket, to figure out on their own. Why not give everyone a helicopter pilot license on the same basis? On the ubiquity of McDonald’s: two hundred years from now the Golden Arches will be perceived as having been symbols of our religion; in fact, he suggests, maybe the pyramids were the Egyptians’ fast food joints. (Not exactly a knee-slapper, but representative of the overall content.)

However bright and incisive he may be, Quinn does not help himself by his presentation.  Delivered in what we’ll call Rapid-Speak, “Small Talk,” noted in press releases and other sources as running 70 minutes, ran an hour flat on my Tuesday night. That he might have cut some material does not mitigate the fact that he talks – small or other – too damn fast. Combined with holding a cordless microphone right at his lips, a portion of his material is indistinct, a lament shared by my companion and another random attendee. Gaffes like that are why objective-eyed directors are so important to solo shows. Here, James Fauvell (and sound designer Margaret Montagna) fail both performer and audience in not alerting Quinn to simple adjustments. (I do not recall the same problem with his Seinfeld-directed pieces.)

Notwithstanding that flaw, the man gets a warm reception, even very casually dressed in jeans and untucked shirt, like, he points out, a twelve-year-old boy. Why not, Colin; that’s the audience dress code too.

Through February 11 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, NYC. For Mon-Sat performance schedule and tickets ($49-$59): www.colinquinnshow.com  


Set Sail Aboard Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore”

Most full-scale musical shows run several weeks of previews before submitting to critical evaluation; some even longer, with mixed results (cue “Spiderman”). The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) production of “H.M.S. Pinafore” opened cold last week and hit its stride in about ten minutes. The venerable company, founded in 1974 by Albert Bergeret, who still directs and conducts (including this one), maintains a performance-ready repertory of the thirteen surviving Savoy Operas created by the namesake team. (A couple more were never published.) While some of the more familiar titles dominate the roster, all thirteen are intermittently staged in NYC and on tour.

True to their founding mission of “giving vitality to the…legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan through performance and education,” NYGASP is recognized as the Gold Standard of Gilbert & Sullivan production companies, exemplified by the company’s widely acclaimed US and Canadian tours as well as their lauded appearances at G & S Festivals in England.

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players aboard the “H.M.S. Pinafore” [Photos: Danny Bristoll]

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Blog, NY Theater, Off Broadway

“The Journey of Jazz” Is a Syncopated Pleasure Trip

It is an unusual opening number for an orchestral jazz concert/revue: a strikingly evocative solo rendition of the legendary Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.”  Even more unusual, the wonderful pianist, Dalton Ridenhour, who has been channeling Joplin since age nine, is not the nominal ‘star’ of the proceedings. That status belongs to identical-twin musician-brothers Peter and Will Anderson, who conceived, directed and are producers of “The Journey of Jazz,” running through December 11 at 59E59 Theater A.

Will Anderson on clarinet and Peter Anderson, saxophone [Photos:Geri Reichgut]

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Blog, NY Theater, Off Broadway

This “& Juliet” Is No Tale of Woe

You need not be closely familiar with William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” or with his personal life to enjoy “& Juliet.” References to both are deployed liberally throughout, but the Broadway show is a musical and visual delight on its own. (Among the tidbits you may never have considered, Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife, is not happy with the bequest of his “second best bed.” Her name also takes a hit.)

Lorna Courtney is Juliet (no & about it) [Photos: Mathew Murphy]

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