Playwright: Robert Holman. At: Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn Ave. Tickets: 866-811-4111 or www.steeptheatre.com; $20-$22. Runs through: Nov. 10
Many Chicago storefront theaters have championed the work of British playwright Simon Stephens. Steep Theatre, in particular, has produced acclaimed productions of his plays Harper Regan and Pornography, so it's only natural that the company would turn its attentions to the playwright that Stephens credits as one of his biggest influences: the Yorkshire-based Robert Holman.
To open its 2012-13 season, Steep Theatre has revived Holman's 1986 play Making Noise Quietly (which was also revived at London's Donmar Warehouse earlier this year). The play certainly highlights Steep Theatre's intimate space and acting talent, though audiences might scratch their heads pondering exactly what they're supposed to take away from the show's three short vignettes that appear unrelated to each other in terms of settings and subject matter.
"Being Friends" focuses on two young men in rural Kent in 1944. Oliver (Nick Goodman) is a Quaker northerner who is sent to work at a dairy farm due to his status as a conscientious objector, while Eric is an artsy illustrator and writer who has been deferred from military service due to an injury. The two eye and chat each other up as they ponder a nude swim in what could end up being a happy fling or a dangerous game of mistaken assumptions.
"Lost" jumps ahead to the aftermath of the Falklands War of 1982 when Seaman Geoffrey Church (Peter Moore) must informer May Appleton (Patricia Donegan) that her estranged grown son, Ian, was killed in battle.
The play concludes with the title piece set in 1986 in the Black Forest, which presents the successful German businesswoman Helene Ensslin (Lorraine Freund) dealing with the foul-mouthed British soldier Alan Tadd (Craig Cunningham) and his near feral child, Sam (Théo Tounge), who communicates only by grunting and writing words on his arm. Through the course of this vignette, Helene and Alan reveal secrets about who they are and ponder the choices they have to make in the future.
I guess if you must try to connect the three vignettes, they all deal in one way or another with war and those who have been affected by it directly or on the peripheries. Otherwise, it might be best to take each piece on its own terms instead of straining to find thematic conjoining links.
Of the three, the acting (and especially the dialects) is the most consistent in the title piece, offering a much more involving story under the fine oversight of director Erica Weiss. Steep's Making Noise Quietly does offer an insight into one of Holman's pieces, which seems to favor presenting characters reflecting and talking through their dilemmas as a way to cope or ponder their next move.