The always unpredictable Amoralists (Rantoul and Die, Hotel/Motel) turn to campy sci-fi/horror in its latest gem, Ken Urban’s suburban memory play Nibbler, running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater through March 18. Bookended by a scene on Christmas Eve 2004, the story takes place primarily in the summer of 1992, as five friends from Medport, New Jersey, graduate high school and contemplate what comes next. “Weird to think we won’t all be here in a few months,” Smiths nerd Matt (Spencer Davis Milford) says. “None of us are going far,” his girlfriend, gorgeous blond Hayley (Elizabeth Lail), responds. “I know, but I feel kind of, I don’t know . . . What’s gonna happen to us?” Matt asks. Hayley is all set to go to Trenton State with the tomboyish Tara (Rachel Franco), but Tara, a virgin who is desperate to get laid by just about any means necessary, is still hoping that she’ll get into Stanford. Geeky Pete (Sean Patrick Monahan) is excited about going to NYU, but his best friend, ersatz group leader Adam (James Kautz), hasn’t yet made up his mind what he’ll be doing, acting like it’s all no big deal. But when a UFO lands nearby, the friends start changing after encounters with a green, scaly — well, you really have to see it to believe it (and be sure to pay attention to the details, designed to reveal critical information about what’s going on).
Urban (Sense of an Ending, The Correspondent) was inspired by the events of 9/11 in writing Nibbler, as well as Thornton Wilder’s Our Townand Mac Wellman’s Sincerity Forever.. There have been various iterations of the play over the last fifteen years, but looking back at his own past, trying to remember the feeling of hope that comes with youth, Urban has not altered the core philosophy, which is as relevant as ever. “Regardless of whether you deem the author prescient or not, the scenes involving politics remained untouched in all drafts,” he explains in a program note. The character of Adam is not only universal but also evokes the kind of lost American who ended up voting for Donald Trump this past November, feeling that Democratic Party elitists turned their back on him. Urban and director Benjamin Kamine (Carlyle, a cautionary tail) cleverly play with genre tropes, from teen sex flicks to Invasion of the Body Snatchers to coming-of-age dramas, incorporating a killer soundtrack, with snippets of songs by the Smiths, Depeche Mode, Sonic Youth, the Happy Mondays, the Butthole Surfers, and Joy Division. (Urban is also half of the band Occurrence, with Cat Hollyer; their latest album is titled, appropriately enough, The Past Will Last Forever.) Amoralists founding artistic director Kautz (Utility, The Bad and the Better) heads a talented cast, which also includes Matthew Lawler as sweet-natured Officer Dan, who has a fondness for his own misspent youth, as well as for Tara. Nibbler gets a little goofy at times, but it also shows a deep understanding of what it feels like to be a teenager. “What do you believe in?” Hayley asks Adam, who answers, “I believe that believing is a waste of fucking time.” But once again, we believe in the Amoralists, whose shows are never a waste of time.