Hoarding disorder is an ongoing difficulty throwing away or parting with possessions. … (hoarders) experience distress at the thought of getting rid of the items regardless of their actual value…often creating extremely cramped living conditions with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter… They often suffer from depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. The Mayo Clinic
Eighty year-old Sam (Danny DeVito) has been a hoarder since his wife died three years ago. He’s ignored multiple warnings from the fire and sanitation departments (provoked by a neighbor) to clean up his junk-filled home. Correction: Never refer to a hoarder’s possessions as “junk.” To them, the word indicates lack of comprehension. Sam snaps like a pinball when the term is used. Deadline looms. His house could be condemned for health and safety reasons.
“I live the way I live,” he tells distraught daughter Amelia (Lucy DeVito) who arrives with bubble wrap in her car trunk just in case. “If you don’t like it, don’t come.” Her father half means it. Solitary except for best friend and neighbor Foster (Ray Anthony Thomas – naturalistic and sympathetic), he lives with neither a working telephone, television, or radio and hasn’t set foot into the jungle of his overgrown yard in years. “I’m organizing,” he protests when confronted. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Denying a fall, he repeatedly proclaims, “I’m spry!”
Ray Anthony Thomas (Foster) and Danny DeVito (Sam)
The kitchen, bathroom, and man himself are clean which proves to Sam he doesn’t have a problem despite going ballistic when Foster tries to move a stack of magazines in order to sit. The men have a long, warm, nonjudgmental relationship. His friend fruitlessly offers to help clean. Foster, however, withholds a secret the size of an elephant – easily hidden in plain sight. Amelia conceals one of her own. It takes 100 minutes to get to these. The production contains too much filler, some of it silent observation. Filling is the point. Sam has an empty space in his heart and gut. If he complies with everyone’s wishes with what will he fill it? There’s nobility in his decision, but no answer.
Theresa Rebeck is a fine writer, but this is not one of her best. The playwright does, however, come up with some nifty specifics to justify keeping objects. Her narrative of Sam’s wife’s decline is moving and adds to our understanding. The use of board games to anchor better times culminates in the protagonist vociferously playing “Sorry!” against unseen opponents in a too long, but effective parenthesis. The piece tries with almost an audible grunt, to be amusing. Occasional quips are almost inevitably awkward. Pathos wins.
Danny DeVito always plays Danny DeVito. Either you like him or you don’t. I Need That seems to be written for his standard, grumbling, combative character. There’s no stretch here. He’s familiarly sarcastic, fatalistic, and finally poignant.
Lucy DeVito (Danny’s daughter) doesn’t come into her own until the end of the play. She seems to be waiting to speak rather than listen. We feel frustration about her father, but little love from her.
Lucy DeVito (Amelia), Danny DeVito (Sam)
Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel draws narrative out a bit too much. Sam spends a great deal of time wandering through the living room seemingly without relating to anything he sees or picks up. That he never touches Amelia changes the effect of the ending. The men’s affection for one another is well played.
Alexander Dodge’s set makes one itch it’s so believably an out of control mess. It also intrigues. When your mind wanders – as it might – look at what he’s gathered as the ephemera of Sam’s life. There’s no credit for props, but ostensibly full, plastic garbage bags obviously contain next to nothing ruining the denouement.
Tilly Grimes’ costumes work just right for the men, but are almost consistently unflattering for Lucy DeVito.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Ray Anthony Thomas (Foster), Lucy DeVito (Amelia), Danny DeVito (Sam)
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
I Need That by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Through December 30, 2023
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd Street