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.)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.