Sometimes, journeyman writers enjoy a late-in-life renaissance, and so it has gone in Britain with Yorkshire scribe Robert Holman, a 60-ish playwright who grew up a Quaker, wrote unassuming plays eschewing the various "in-yer-face" and political trends of the past 20 years in favor of dramas about the struggles of ordinary folks, and eventually came to be seen as a powerful influence on an entire generation of young writers.
Holman is also beloved by his peers for his widely hailed resistance to dramaturges and the workshopping process. With Holman, he coughs up a new work, and the play is the play.
Several of the writers who have said they owe at lot to Holman, such as Simon Stephens, have found a happy stateside home at Steep Theatre, the successful Chicago storefront that specializes in contemporary drama of the U.K. and Ireland. So when the Holman triptych, "Making Noise Quietly," got a well-regarded revival at the Donmar Warehouse in London in May, it seemed like a natural for Steep to pick it up.
This is, though, a very difficult piece to stage, and director Erica Weiss' Steep production, although replete with some potent individual moments, somehow can't grab hold of the dramatic throughline and pull you through the plays.
"Making Noise Quietly" is about the consequences of war, although none of these beautifully written works is set on a battlefield. The first play, set in Kent, England, in 1944 and acted by Josh Salt and Nick Goodman, is about an encounter between a conscientious objector and a gay artist. The second, set in 1982 and performed by Peter Moore and Patricia Donegan, involves a man in uniform, home from the Falklands War, arriving at the door of a serviceman's mother. And the third and best, set in Germany in 1986 and performed here by Lorraine Freund, Craig Cunningham and Theo Tougne, involves a Holocaust survivor showing a troubled and violent father and son the face of real trouble and violence.
All three of the plays, though, are about encounters with strangers, and all of these meetings end with characters making voyages far outside their initial comfort zones, and that is what this production fails utterly to convey.
You just don't see any kind of progression, especially in the first piece, which is flat, overly pretty and mannered, and thus neither human nor credible. Both the second and third dramas are a little better (the third really is an extraordinary piece of passionate writing, and some of acting rises to meet it), but here, too, it feels in this production very much like the characters have been stuck in a series of wobbly tableaux, when the script is actually requiring them to gather speed down the highway of experiential change.
When: Through Nov. 10
Where: Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Tickets: $20-$22 at 866-811-4111 or steeptheatre.com