By Ken Urban
Directed by Benjamin Kamine
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“I’m trying, Tara, but some days… it’s not easy being the one left behind. And the last few years, it feels like everything’s going to shit in this country.” – Adam
At the beginning of Ken Urban’s “Nibbler,” the world premiere joint production of the Amoralists and Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre currently running at Rattlestick, Adam (James Kautz) and Tara (Rachel Franco) meet in Adam’s bedroom on Christmas Eve in 2004 as he is packing things up before his mother “tosses” them prior to moving to Delaware with her new husband Charlie. The “stuff” of “Nibbler” is Adam’s “dream fantasy” about what happens between the present and the summer of 1992 when he and Tara and their four friends hang out at the Medford Diner in Medford, New Jersey.
Adam alludes to the “last few years” having been difficult for him. Even the Clinton years in the White House could not have predicted September 11, 2001. Adam’s “dream” exposes a group of friends coping with the upheaval between adolescence and adulthood while exploring all the options inherent in that “bumpy ride.” Hayley (Elizabeth Lail) and Matt (Spencer Davis Milford), Pete (Sean Patrick Monahan), and Officer Dan (Matthew Lawler) collide in episodes of angst, sexual experimentation, homophobia, self-denial, and adolescent dysphoria. The theme of “what you get when you are a person” is evident and its importance unquestionable to playwright Ken Urban.
Growing up – grappling with that time “when you are a person” – is an experience bristling with both satisfaction and disappointment. A “proper” adolescence culminates in healthy separation and individuation with a core set of values and understanding of self in tow. “Nibbler” focuses on the quest for personhood without being judgmental about the ingredients of the journey.
Adam and Tara’s journeys – and those of their four friends reverberate – with varying degrees of authenticity in “Nibbler.” The six characters differ in the measure of believability and their conflicts are not equally engaging. This results in plot lines that are sometimes muddled and an overall play that seems to lose its footing all too often. The Sci-Fi component adds little to the dramatic arc and feels unnecessary as a trope for growing up in the Jersey Pines – or anywhere. Obviously, there are exigencies that “nibble away” at one’s process of “becoming.” Whether, even in Adam’s “dream fantasy, the ever- growing alien puppet (designed by Stefano Brancato) serves and supports the reality is questionable.
The cast works hard to bring Mr. Urban’s coming of age/coming to terms play to the stage. Anshuman Bhatia’s set is workable (even with the moveable upstage wall) as is Christina Watanabe’s moody lighting. Benjamin Kamine keeps the action moving at a quick pace. The result just seems to belie all the efforts of the cast and creative team.
Perhaps the delayed curtain of twenty minutes (waiting for someone who never showed up) and the “buzz” of opening night – replete with photos and “important guests” refusing to take their seats until the very last moment (including extended hugs and kisses) was unsettling to the cast waiting backstage. But the problems with “Nibbler” seem to extend beyond the ephemera of opening night jitters.