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‘Making Noise Quietly’ falls flat at Steep Theatre

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When: Through Nov. 10

Where: Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn

Tickets: $20-$22

Info: (312) 458-0722;

Updated: November 15, 2012 6:08AM

In recent seasons, Steep Theatre has served as an unofficial showcase for modern British plays, most notably the work of Simon Stephens. With its current production, “Making Noise Quietly” — a trilogy of plays in which war is something of a catalytic “background event” — Steep has turned its attention to Robert Holman, 60, whose work has been seen at London’s National, Royal Shakespeare and Court theaters, and who is said to have had considerable influence on a younger generation of playwrights, including Stephens.

Holman’s rather contrived-feeling 1987 trilogy, stiffly directed by Erica Weiss, is far more about the wars that rage inside people than about any actual combat. Seen together, the plays also suggest that often we are our own worst enemies. As for real war, it can be oddly liberating as well as mutilating.

The opener, “Being Friends,” is set in 1944 in the countryside of Kent, England, where Eric (Josh Salt), a very chatty, openly gay young writer-illustrator who suffered a serious bicycle accident, encounters a more reserved, sexually ambiguous young conscientious objector, Oliver (Nick Goodman), who is doing his war service on a nearby farm. They very quickly strike up a friendship, and by the end (as suggested by a brief sequence of full frontal male nudity), they are about to do more than picnic.

“Lost,” set in 1982, during the rather ridiculous Falklands War between Britain and Argentina, takes place in a North Yorkshire town as a mother, May Appleton (Patricia Donegan), is informed of the death of her long-estranged son. Bringing the news is a fellow naval officer, Geoffrey Church (Peter Moore), who knew both the dead man — who had not communicated with his parents in five years — and the woman he never told his parents he had married. The mother is more angry than devastated.

The final installment, which bears the play’s title, is a darkly twisted tale that feels painfully forced as it examines issues of torture and child abuse. Fittingly, it is set in a Black Forest town in Germany in 1986, where Helene Ensslin (the very interesting Lorraine Freund), a prosperous textile designer who was a child survivor of the Holocaust, has a summer house.

Helene’s house is near some remaining British army barracks, where Alan Tadd (Craig Cunningham) now lives with Sam (Theo Tougne), the young stepson dumped on him when his wife fled their marriage. The child, hideously abused by Alan (a man ignorant of the concentration camps), refuses to speak, but has a fondness for Helene. But Helene’s lessons in civility for both father and son suggest her war scars haven’t healed properly at all.

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