Written by Ken Urban
Directed by Benjamin Kamine
A kind of Gen X spin on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ken Urban’s teen dramedy looks at what happens when the comforting routines of high school begin to crumble under the pressures of adulthood.
It’s the summer of 1992, and everything 80’s is on its last legs. The cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union is over, and Bill Clinton is poised to end a twelve year run of Republican leadership. Nirvana and Pearl Jam haven’t yet transformed pop radio, and Morissey and Depeche Mode are still the patron saints of adolescent angst. At least that’s how it is in Medford, New Jersey, where Adam (James Kautz), is doing his slacker thing. There’s not much to do in this suburban wasteland, but at least Adam has a tight group of fellow misfits to help him pass the time. Matt (Spencer Davis Milford), tries to act confident although his hot girlfriend Hayley (Elizabeth Lail), can see that he lacks experience. Tara (Rachel Franco) keeps throwing herself at Matt and his best bud Pete (Sean Patrick Monahan), but they only see her as a friend. Desperate to cross the sexual border into adulthood, Tara stumbles into an affair with Dan (Matthew Lawler), an older, married cop who grew up in Medford and never left. All these little episodes fairly typical of small town society, but soon life in Medford begins to look less like an indie drama and more like an alien invasion B movie. Late at night, a green, multi-limbed extraterrestrial called the Nibbler (presumably named for arcade game of the same name), injects its unsuspecting victims with a mysterious venom that alters their personalities. One by one, Adam’s friends become unrecognizable. Matt, eschewing the fashionable political apathy of the day, morphs into a racist, homophobic right-winger. Tara takes the opposite stance, donning slogan-laden clothes and volunteering for the Clinton campaign. Pete sports a lavender tee shirt and comes out about being gay. They all start moving away to college, doing something with their lives, leaving the ambition-less Adam without his old support system. The party’s over, and Adam finds himself facing a daunting choice: find some sense purpose in life, or end up like Dan in 20 years.
The cast rises nimbly to the challenge of the script, making the characters’ identity transitions both comical and convincing. Director Benjamin Kamine, aided by the show’s impressive production values, weaves the mundane and surreal elements of the story into a motley tribute to the quirky culture of 90’s.The script, likes its protagonist, is both endearing and a bit unfocused. The most affecting beats deal with the real (not alien-induced) maturation process, as young adults discover the messiness and ambiguity of actual human relationships. The fleeting tenderness between Tara and Dan, for example, is handled with disarming delicacy, as is the pained awkwardness of Pete’s unspoken desire for the clueless Adam. Other scenes are less theatrically engaging, especially the ones that center on the unnibbled Adam. We learn that he is in a band, and that he is worried he may have gotten someone pregnant. Yet, for some reason, all these events happen offstage and don’t seem to influence the course of the story. If Adam could be less of a “lens character” and more of a three-dimensional person with real problems and dreams, NIBBLER would have more of the bite it needs.
NIBBLER continues through March 18 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater: 224 Waverly Place New York, NY 10014. Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34100