Even earlier than the lights dim at first of “I Want That,” the new Theresa Rebeck play at the American Airlines Theater, the present curtain and what’s in entrance of it supply loads of exposition. The curtain is painted to depict the road grid of a neat New Jersey city, with neat homes on neat tons. However, uh-oh, creeping out from beneath it, on the ground of the stage, are bins and bins overflowing with junk: historic copies of In style Science, bruised vacation decorations, stacks of outdated garments, a tragic single sneaker.
So we all know earlier than the curtain rises on what one character describes as a “hellhole” of a house that we’ll be coping with hoarding — and the orderly world that’s horrified by it. Making the purpose even sharper is the doorway of the star, Danny DeVito, as Sam, the impish, 80-ish widower who lives there. Effectively, it’s not a lot an entrance as a disclosure. Solely after a sequence of knocks on the door wakes him up can we notice that amid the muddle submerging virtually each floor of this once-handsome front room is Sam himself, indistinguishable from the trash.
Alas, the busy set, by Alexander Dodge, leaves little for the remainder of the play to do. Hyper-competently, like a very good three-camera sitcom, Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s manufacturing for the Roundabout Theater Firm, which opened on Thursday, will inch out Sam’s story — in addition to that of his daughter, Amelia, and his outdated pal Foster. It’ll calibrate the requisite unsurprising surprises. It’ll minimize its laughs with pathos and plump for a tear on the finish.
That’s no small feat, in fact. Rebeck has a eager feeling for construction and the bigger actions of storytelling. That is her twenty first main New York manufacturing, and fifth on Broadway, since 1992. (She can be the creator of the TV sequence “Smash,” so she clearly is aware of a lot about sustaining battle.) And there’s actually pleasure available when an skilled like DeVito, for 15 seasons a star of “It’s At all times Sunny in Philadelphia,” will get his mouth round a morsel of aromatic patois (he describes a nugatory bottle cap as a significant memento “from my yout’”) or a juicy monologue. At one level he performs all sides of a sport of Sorry!, full with vicious kibitzing and gloating.