The Broadway Theatre Review: Roundabout Theatre Company’s I Need That
Danny DeVito (Roundabout’s The Price) is Sam, the grieving man at the center of this sweet-natured, cluttered play, I Need That. And even though I wouldn’t say the same thing about this overly simplistic and sympathetic play, it is a kind, easy enough stroll through the compounding weight of what grief and loss can do to a person who isn’t quite ready to let go of a loved one. Sam has lost his wife, to dementia, or possibly Alzheimer’s, and from the looks of his situation, he’s having a hard time letting go. Of anything really. He can’t detach himself from anything that even remotely connects his mourning brain to the memory of his dearly departed wife. Including some things that have nothing to do with her.
The curtain opens to a darkened room, overflowing with books, board games, clothes, magazines, and more, thanks to some fine work by scenic designer Alexander Dodge (Broadway’s Anastasia). He is woken up to the sound of loud persistent knocking. It feels like it is the middle of the night, but as it turns out, once he opens the door to his best bud, Foster, played well and true by Ray Anthony Thomas (MCC’s Moscow Moscow…), it’s clear that it’s the middle of the day. And Sam hasn’t left this house for a little too long. Foster has come by, as it seems like he often does, bringing day-old croissants or the like. But in reality, he’s just swinging by because he worries about his friend. And maybe a few other miscellaneous things.
Another caring soul also comes by, worried about this compounding hoarding situation and the man in the middle of all this mess: his daughter, played by his real-life daughter Lucy DeVito (Off-Broadway’s Hot Mess) in a somewhat troubling bit of stunt casting. She keeps coming by, frazzled and troubled by the state of her father’s house. She’s very concerned that, mainly because of a nosy neighbor, her father might have buried himself in, setting up a situation that might eventually lead him to an eviction, and we can see why. Somewhat.
The play saunters forward slowly, moving itself around and about this junk pile of a living room, with an endearing casual care. Sam keeps comparing himself to others, on a lesser note. Which makes sense but is somewhat true and therefore less dramatic. The interactions with his two visitors though are honest and the confusion is authentic in its angered frustration.
But the play as written by Theresa Rebeck (Bernhardt/Hamlet; Downstairs), never really feels like it takes his situation all that seriously. The eviction part; yes, but the hoarding, not so much. Things change though when Foster decides to come clean (about a few shame-filled confessions) and tells Sam that he’s thinking he’ll move to Cleveland….yes, Cleveland, into an apartment up in the sky so he’ll get himself in a better financial situation and be closer to his family. In a mad attempt to get him to stay, Sam, with Foster’s help, finally pulls himself together, and cleans the place up, hoping that if he does, Foster will stay. With him. In this big house that has plenty of room.
The cleanup is a quick reprieve from possible disaster, and a door opens to further explorations and some not-to-surprising uncoverings. It’s tender and engaging, and as directed with a careful straightforwardness by Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Broadway’s Present Laughter), I Need That plays with the situation in a casual comfortable manner, covering the bases and uncovering the simple causality of (usually) a more difficult and complex situation.
The play feels warm and connected, and as an audience, we embrace the family dynamic, even when the actual play is filled with some overly dynamic highs and lows that never really feel fleshed out or mapped. Moods swing with wild abandonment, piling up problematic scenarios like books held on to by a grieving widow, afraid to let go, just in case he will forget. And for that, we can be forgiving, but as a play about something serious and emotional, I don’t think I need Roundabout‘s I Need This. It’s not terrible, and no one in it is either, but no one is memorable either, including DeVito, his daughter DeVito, or this messy play.