I NEED THAT Hoards Up Drama — Review
As Yi Zhao’s lighting slowly begins to touch the purposely cluttered set Alexander Dodge has designed for Theresa Rebeck’s new play, I Need That, what little we see onstage appears to be a dense, dangerous jungle. And though Fitz Patton’s tribal music certainly points that way, what emerges from the dark is much worse, and far more domestic: a New Jersey hoarder’s house.
But after that initial bait-and-switch, not much in Rebeck’s dramatically inert play, or Moritz von Stuelpnagel hands-thrown-up direction, inspired a need to lean in for closer inspection.
Sam (Danny DeVito), the collector extraordinaire in question, wakes up one day to a reminder from his daughter Amelia (Lucy DeVito) that, unless he complies with a months-old government notice to clear up the overstuffed property, he will be evicted. Foster (Ray Anthony Thomas), his friendly neighbor, agrees he should start throwing out the obvious trash.
So do we. And that’s about it in terms of movement in the work, which is less a play than a 100-minute cycle of scenes in which Amelia or Foster point to an item they deem worthless before Sam redeems it with a lightly emotional memory. There could be a darkly funny surrealism found in this repetition, or a chance to dive deep into the different histories each of Sam’s possessions—and, by extension, the American Dream, or something—holds, but Rebeck almost sadistically avoids mining the setup for anything more than weak comedy followed by cheap passes at sentimentality.
Very little of the dialogue is of particular significance and, whether made to feel improvised or simply under-rehearsed by the cast, has a meandering quality that quickly becomes grating. The elder DeVito performs his cantankerous shtick well, and his daughter does what she can against a character who, even when objectively correct, is written with a shrillness that renders her arguments moot. Thomas is a calming presence, though his character must gesture towards two inane thematic attempts at exploring class and race which seem like a second-draft attempt at introducing drama.
Late in the play, Foster makes a case that Sam’s sitting on all this material wealth makes him a social and moral antagonist, and Amelia comes up with her own subplot about a possible move. Like each of Sam’s items, these could be someone’s trash or treasure, but stagnate in the unexamined limbo.
I Need That is in performance through December 30, 2023 at the American Airlines Theatre on West 42nd Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.