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Theatre Interview: James Kautz

by Photo of Paul Hansen

The Artistic Director of The Amoralists discusses the thought-provoking new play ‘Nibbler’

Theatre Interview: James Kautz

Hollywood produced The Thing, The Fly and The Blob. Off-Broadway has rolled out  (almost literally) Nibbler, and its effects can be practically as unsettling as its distant cinematic relatives.

Previously reviewed on this site by another writer, Nibbler is a memorable, vivid and often intense coming of age tale of a group of five teens growing up in a small town in New Jersey in the early 1990s. They are individually attacked by a space alien – Nibbler – leading to major changes in their personalities and relationships with each other.

Nibbler is being produced by The Amoralists Theatre Company.  I recently had a discussion with James Kautz, who in addition to being a founding member and current Artistic Director of The Amoralists, plays the role of Adam – a particularly troubled youth.  The play is written by Ken Urban and features an impressive adult-sized puppet as the alien.   Below are excerpts from my interview with Kautz.  

What particularly appealed to you about the script for Nibbler?

It just kind of stuck out as the perfect next show for us.  It could hit all of The Amoralists' tenets.   It totally pushed us into new theatrical territory. I think what I was most taken with was how many colors there were on the palette, so to speak.   It's super funny, but it's also pretty tragic.  And you have a puppet and a song  [laughs].   It was kind of a kaleidoscope of a play and it really appealed to me, especially since our last play was so naturalistic...This definitely honors what we do best but pushes us in a new direction.

Your theater company is known as The Amoralists. How did you decide on that title?

We - the other two co-founders and I - weren't seeing a lot of the work that we wanted to view.  So we decided to create our own company.  It was based on the concept of anti-heroes and the counter-culture.  We were big 1970s film fans.  The idea that we could spend an entire sitting with people that were not necessarily black and white, good or bad, but possessed all of the spectrum of character - there was an amorality to that.  We liked that idea that we were going to tell stories about bad guys who loved their kids,  and good guys who were hypocrites.  That's kind of where The Amoralists were born. 

Do you have an interpretation of the alien - Nibbler - or would you like to have the audience come to its own conclusions as to what the monster represents?

We think things that are open to interpretation are wonderful, but if we as theatre makers don't have an agreed upon concept, things can get kind of muddy.

As mentioned above, James plays the role of Adam whose road to emotional growth seems particularly troubled.  James discussed the idea that Nibbler may actually be a figment of Adam's mind to explain the trauma of adolescence and friends moving on from childhood relationships.

Adam has created this alien as a way of theatrically painting that moment when an adolescent or teen changes into an adult - and how it happens seemingly overnight.  In one moment you're still able to be a child and in the next you are irrevocably turned into an adult,  or the person that you will become. And I think from Adam's point of view it was a very violating experience, it was something he did not understand. It seemed other-wordly.  How could all these people who were his closest friends and family – kind of the only people who loved him - change and then leave him.  I think to rationalize it he has to look back and say,  “that had to be some sort of a force from another world...that's unexplainable...”

How was the Nibbler puppet constructed?

I think the hardest part about the play was figuring out how to make the alien.  What is it going to look like?  Ken [the playwright] had always envisioned it as a puppet.

There is a puppeteer named Stefano Brancato.   We talked to a handful of puppet designers who were very skilled,  but Stefano was the only one who said, "I can make it for you but I am going to have to teach you how to use it."  It's useless if your actors don't know how to operate it.

We had puppet-work the very first day of rehearsal. We brought it in and it was part of our training. Learning how to operate the puppet was, believe it or not,  a very arduous process.  It became as much a focus of the play as anything else.

Is there anything in general that you would like to tell audiences about Nibbler?

Not necessarily...It offers a wide variety of theatrical experiences in a single play.  Come and see it and make of it what you will.  And come and see it soon because we close on Saturday.

'Nibbler' is playing through March 18 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater located at 224 Waverly Place. 

I forgot to ask James what he was going to do with the Nibbler puppet when the production is over.   If someone were to put it in their living room, it would make quite the conversation piece.

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