I Need That

By Theresa Rebeck; Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Produced by Roundabout Theatre Company

Broadway, Play
Runs through 12.30.23
American Airlines Theatre / Todd Haimes Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street


by David Kaufman on 11.20.23


I Need That(L-R): Ray Anthony Thomas, Danny DeVito, and Lucy DeVito in I Need That. Photo by Joan Marcus.


BOTTOM LINE: Theresa Rebeck's light-hearted new play about a hoarder focuses on how our ties to those we love can lead to...a lot of stuff.

When you enter the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre, a stage curtain depicts an aerial view of New Jersey homes. It’s the last uncluttered view we have before the curtain rises to an aptly busy set winningly designed by Alexander Dodge, and may be familiar to anyone who has watched an episode of Hoarders, or who saw a production of Richard Greenberg's The Dazzle back in 2002.

The Dazzle is about the Collyer Brothers, Homer and Langley, who lived in isolation in a four-story Harlem brownstone at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 128th Street. The Collyer Brothers are perhaps the most notorious of pathological hoarders—they died in 1947 amid 140 tons of various items, including a grand piano and other musical instruments, and countless empty cans, bottles, newspapers, and magazines. While Theresa Rebeck's I Need That instantly evokes the Collyer Brothers, as a star vehicle for Danny Devito, it is too good-natured and benign to be anything close to pathological.

DeVito plays Sam, who’s asleep in a chair when an ever-louder pounding on the door awakens him. It's Sam's neighbor Foster (a self-assured Ray Anthony Thomas), paying the first of numerous visits with food for Sam as they proceed to engage in the kind of banter one expects from a comedy. “I was down at the croissant place,” says Foster, “got you that ham and cheese croissant, I know you like those.” Claiming he is not hungry, Sam responds "You’re the one who likes ham and cheese. “What else you got in there?”

Foster’s arrival is soon followed by Sam’s daughter Amelia (played naturally enough by DeVito’s daughter Lucy DeVito, with a delicate charm). Sam tries to avoid her, and even claims to be nude to send her away. But Amelia knows they’re both hiding from her and persists. (“Mr. Foster? I can hear you in there.”)

The fire department has been threatening to condemn his home and oust Sam. When Amelia tells Sam he must downsize to save his home, Sam responds, “You have to figure out what you want to keep, and what you can let go. It’s like Sophie’s Choice.” Amelia counters that it’s more like Carrie, “Where the house is so full of terrible things it just sucks itself into the earth.” But Sam’s fervent belief that “everything here is worth something” could also be his downfall.

Rebeck’s play unfolds with a quotidian realism enhanced by director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, with scenes such as Sam adjusting the antenna on the old-fashioned TV he wheels around on its stand while the familiar jingle from Jeopardy can be heard. (The sound design is by Fitz Patton and Bradlee Ward.) In a subsequent scene, Sam’s asleep when Amelia lets herself in and discovers him on the floor. Amelia is concerned he injured himself or had a stroke. After explaining he “just fell…asleep down here,” Amelia presents him with a wrapped gift, a cell-phone Sam says he doesn’t need. “I have a land line."

Trouper that he is, DeVito is always spot-on with his actions and his delivery, giving a performance as comfortable as the plaid flannel pajama bottoms he wears. (Tilly Grimes is the costume designer.) DeVito’s tour-de-force moment arrives when Sam plays a 4-player round of the board game “Sorry”—all by himself. Though it may sound absurd, in the end he loses. It’s like a solo version of Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine, only with more pathetic and devastating results.

In a subplot of I Need That, we see what Foster does when Sam is out of the room. When Foster eventually confesses, Sam doesn’t seem to care. To posit Sam with a more genuine crisis, Rebeck conveniently has Foster moving to Cleveland to be with his son (giving rise to Sam’s inexplicable, albeit humorous, antipathy to Ohio) and Amelia considering a promotion to an office in Nebraska.

Given the comedic, light-hearted tone of I Need That, the ending may not be particularly surprising. Suffice it to say, there are various reveals, related to both characters and Dodge's set design. The ending is both ironic and sweet, and underscores Rebeck’s real message—that Sam's hoarding has more to do with his past and present relationships than it does to the "things" that surround him.

(I Need That plays at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre (aka the Todd Haimes Theatre), 227 West 42nd Street, through December 30, 2023. The running time is 100 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7; Wednesdays at 2 and 8; Thursdays at 7; Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $112-$344 (including online fees) and are available at or by visiting / calling Roundabout Theatre. For tickets and more information visit or call 212-719-1300.)

I Need That is by Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel. Set Design by Alexander Dodge. Costume Design by Tilly Grimes. Lighting Design by Yi Zhao. Sound Design by Fitz Patton and Bradlee Ward. Original Music by Fitz Patton. Hair & Make-up Design by Tommy Kurzman. Production Stage Manager is Jereme Kyle Lewis.

The cast is Danny DeVito, Lucy DeVito, and Ray Anthony Thomas. Understudies are Danny Rutigliano, Suzy Jane Hunt, and Lance Roberts.