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Nibbler

The 90-minute “Nibbler” keeps picking away at your consciousness without ever amounting to much of a nourishing, theatrical meal--more of a fast-food lunch, or misspent diversion.

James Kautz and Rachel Franco in a scene from “Nibbler” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

Ken Urban’s new play Nibbler opens on Christmas Eve, 2004, in Medford, New Jersey, when the overlapping dialogue and interruptions quickly evoke the early works of David Mamet. However, any comparisons with a great playwright stop there, unfortunately, at the beginning of the play.

Urban may have an admirable mission, in attempting to document the customary passage from youth to adulthood–or high-school to college, to be more precise–as he focuses on five graduating seniors in a middle-class suburb, in 1992, when one of them, Adam, remains behind, without any prospects for a glorious future. But the otherwise realistic play that unfolds quickly veers into surreal territory, as an alien from another planet enters their midst, and the eponymous “Nibbler” becomes ever more real a presence on stage, via a puppet, manipulated by several of the quite visible cast-members.

James Kautz, Elizabeth Lail, Spencer Davis Milford, Sean Patrick Monahan and Rachel Franco in a scene from “Nibbler” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

In the opening scene, we’re introduced to Adam (James Kautz), who has come to collect things from the home of his youth, when he is visited by Tara (Rachel Franco), before they cross over the stage to a diner–and a flashback. As a helpful projection lets us know, it’s now the summer of 1992, and Adam and Tara are joined by Hayley (Elizabeth Lail) and Matt (Spencer Davis Milford) and Pete (Sean Patrick Monahan), celebrating their high school graduation, discussing the prom, the offstage Julie’s recent car accident on Route 70–due to drugs–and not knowing “what’s gonna happen to us.”

With references to a haunted house and “the Jersey Devil,” Nibbler prepares us for the alien, which transforms the people it, well, nibbles on, making the play seem like a new-fangled version of the classic film from the 1950s, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But Nibbler is even more reminiscent of Eric Bogosian’s play, Suburbia, about aimless teenagers trying to cope with becoming adults, while expending their energies on sex, drugs, and yes, rock and roll. There are even several, full frontal nude moments: for one, the gay Pete completely disrobes, as he says to Adam, “You wanna fuck me? You can do anything you want to me…. I’ll do anything for your cause I I I I love you.”

Matthew Lawler, Sean Patrick Monahan, Rachel Franco, and James Kautz in a scene from “Nibbler” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Despite any more serious intentions (an “Author’s Note” in the script claims, “The seeds of this play come from the horror show of 9/11”), it remains difficult to take Nibbler seriously. Even the introduction of the married, middle-aged “Officer Dan” (Matthew Lawler), a corrupt cop who smokes dope with the kids and commences a sexual relationship with Tara, doesn’t add much shock value. It may be that given the alternate reality we’re suddenly living in–as highlighted by “alternative facts” and a President whose legitimacy seems shakier by the hour–even the most outrageous aspects of Nibbler seem tame.

Both as written by Urban and performed by Kautz, the most affecting and sympathetic character is Adam, a musician and songwriter, whose “When You Are a Person” is sung near the end, by five of the six cast-members. It seems telling, though remains inexplicable, that Adam is the only character who isn’t nibbled on by that titular monster. (Perhaps it’s supposed to be a metaphor for a college education.) In fact, the Nibbler even passes up Adam, when he begs the Nibbler to attack him, so he can essentially join the gang.

Along with the rest of the cast, director Benjamin Kamine tries gamely to make it all come together, on the tiny stage at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, with a movable if limited set design by Anshuman Bhatia. Unfortunately, the vagaries in the story and the script make it an uphill struggle with every one of the many scene changes.

Nibbler (through March 18, 2017)

The Amoralists

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, in Manhattan

For tickets, 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.Amoralists.com

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (7 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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