‘Making Noise Quietly’ at Steep: Three swings to make solid connection, but only moving air
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Theater on a rough night can be so much like life when nothing works out, when all you get from a third swing is strike three. That’s the impression I took away from British playwright Robert Holman’s trilogy of vignettes under the collective title “Making Noise Quietly” at Steep Theatre. Whiff. Whiff. Whiff.
Holman, whose career includes stints as resident dramatist at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, brought “Making Noise Quietly” to light in 1987. These three slice-of-life scenes – each resonant of war, though individually titled and each with its own little cast of characters — begins with “Becoming Friends,” about two young men who meet by chance in a bucolic setting during the German bombing of England in 1944. One, played by Josh Salt, is an openly gay writer who has bicycled to this spot with a picnic lunch to edit his latest manuscript. The other (Nick Goodman) is a Quaker farm worker whose life has been rather sheltered and who finds the writer’s métier to be quite dazzling.
Theirs is a dreamy moment in the woods. About the same age, around 25, the two men share one conspicuous thing: Neither is serving in the British army, the writer because of a back injury and the Quaker because he’s a conscientious objector. The writer is vain and a touch arrogant. The Quaker has fulfilled his service requirement as a nurse caring for brutally wounded soldiers, among them a German whose injuries strongly suggested he had been tortured.
The differences between the two young men in personality and world view are indeed intriguing, Holman’s dialogue displays a natural ease and the two actors’ performances are quite credible – Salt the lean, delicate homosexual with a penchant for languid posturing, and Goodman the formidably beautiful country lad who neither needs or thinks to pose. In the tumble of their conversation, the Quaker admits to a certain curiosity about sex between men.
Yet even such a vignette must arrive at something, and get there for good and clear reason. Suffice it to say these guys end by taking each other’s measure (and so indeed do we all). More than that I cannot reveal, lest in a burst of curiosity you decide to give it a go. I will confess my reaction when I realized these two bucks were leaving the stage for the last time: “That’s it?” Then the fully flummoxed: “This tissue of inconsequence is the reason I’ve been sitting here?” But scarcely had my gorge risen when the second scene commenced.
Holman’s second tale, called “Lost,” concerns the visitation of a Navy officer (Peter Moore) to an elderly woman (Patricia Dunegan) to inform her that her son has perished in the Falkland Islands war. (The flare-up between Argentina and Britain over control of the Falkland Islands, off the coast of Argentina, lasted from April to June 1982.)
This also is thin stuff, fashioned from a long-neglected mother’s complaint about the son who was “lost” long ago, her vexation that he squandered his life on a war that had no meaning and finally her conclusion – with a faraway look — that maybe her contemptible son’s life wasn’t wasted after all. Dunegan’s earnestly maternal acting, answered by a certain quizzical shuffling of the feet by Moore’s dutiful officer, does not redeem this bare sketch of an idea.
But we’re moving again, back to the English countryside for part three of this outing, itself titled “Making Noise Quietly.” It’s another elderly lady (Lorraine Freund), this time attended by a petulant young man – actually nasty-tempered and quick to violence — of maybe 30 (the mercurial, scary Craig Cunningham). We have no idea why this peevish lout (with his abused, autistic step-son, played by Théo Tougne, in tow) is sharing space with the lady, who is an amateur landscape painter.
Two things can be said of Holman’s third snapshot: It affords Freund an opportunity to show her range and skill as the painter reveals some chilling details of her life. And it ends – when it finally ends, for it does drag on a bit — with almost laughable neatness. That’s what these three little play patches have in common: hollow endings. In this last instance, however, director Erica Weiss introduces clutter into the emptiness, perhaps to mask its maudlin scent. I did find designer Stephen Harold Carmody’s stark set, made entirely of broad planks, to be fetching. I only wish the enterprise as a whole bespoke as much focus and integrity.
- Performance location, dates and times: Details at TheatreinChicago.com