NOISE IS OFF
It is 1944 in a field near a watering hole in Kent, England. A strapping, fine-looking, and masculine young man purveys the view and strips off his shirt. Another young man enters with his bike; he is a rail-thin, bespectacled, academic-looking peer who is also handsome, but more like Harry Potter than Adonis. He stares intently at the golden-haired, half-dressed man, and from the start of Being Friends, the first one-act of a triptych of short plays titled Making Noise Quietly, the homoerotic subtext of this newfound relationship bubbles like molten lava that threatens to spew from a long-confined space.
In this Steep Theatre production, actors Josh Salt and Nick Goodman have an uncanny, wickedly-tight chemistry as this completely diverse pair of wartime lads who evolve from a routine tête-à-tête into a stimulating, pleasurable exchange about lifestyles, war, and homosexuality. Early on, Oliver (Goodman)—Quaker, conscientious objector, and straight farmhand—explains to Josh (Faber)—a gay, partnered, slightly effeminate novelist—that he yearns to go swimming, for he is overheated from milking the cows (you don’t need to be Kinsey to figure that one out). Josh gently gets on his knees before the unmoving Oliver’s crotch, and deeply inhales the perfumed droplets of moo juice on his workpants. Any audience member should find this moment, if not arousing, then theatrically electrifying.
The boys continue to enchant as they quickly bond; it is a friendship which is hastened not just by sexual chemistry and sincere curiosity, but from the communal experience of hiding from doodlebugs, the soaring German bombs that bullied the Brits in the latter half of WWII.
Unfortunately, bomb doesn’t begin to describe the end result of director Erica Weiss’ rendering of Robert Holman’s playlets, Making Noise Quietly, which premiered in 1987 London, and even had an outing at the estimable Donmar Warehouse in May of this year. The three pieces are superficially tied together in that each play involves transitory relationships which are adumbrated by a war. It seems that Holman is rightfully fascinated about the ways complete strangers can cultivate confidence in each other—regardless of whether that trust is built on prurience, selfishness, or meddling. Theme or no, all three acts must work as a standalone piece, which is a difficult task to begin with, as the writing in each act gets progressively worse, and the third story involving a Concentration Camp survivor and an autistic boy is interminable to the point of fatal.
Prolific British playwright Robert Holman is largely unknown in the States, but suffice it to say that, as with Terence Rattigan, he has an incredible gift for subtly examining human nature in a profound manner. His acumen is best-observed in the first play of the evening, Being Friends. The writing (echoed by the acting) is understated yet saturated with tension; there is an incalculable poignancy in the way the two men’s inquisitiveness about each other’s lives swiftly matures into a deep friendship—and possibly more.
The second play, Lost, has a naval officer, Geoffrey (Peter Moore), calling on a working-class mother, May (Patricia Donegan), to acknowledge the death of her son in the Falklands war in 1982. While Holman successfully expresses the passion which lies in wait beneath the artifice of English gentility, the admirable and emotive actors do not contain the nuance necessary to convey that infamous dryness associated with the Brits (the same reason that Alan Ayckbourn plays rarely succeed on this side of the Pond). But even with an interesting reveal about the officer’s relationship to the dead son, and an unexpected contentiousness from the mother, the mercifully short piece feels contrived and has no resonance whatsoever. This is largely due to Weiss’ vision of the show: All three plays are presented on Stephen Harold Carmody’s beautiful sepia-toned set of thin, cedar-like planks; these are perfect for the first scene, as the wood represents a lakeside dock or pier well, but the same setting is incompatible with a living room. Also, only two chairs and a remote control are employed in the scene with no sense of time or place supplied by the actors. The second enterprise comes off like two thespians showing off their admirable work in an acting class.
The third play, also titled Making Noise Quietly, is not only unsuccessful, it is ceaselessly long, creating a watch-looking, ass-shifting situation like no other. Weiss again creates little in the way of location, but the planks do suggest the backyard patio of Helene (Lorraine Freund), a German Jew who inexplicably has offered her Black Forest home in Germany to a boorish British soldier, Alan (Craig Cunningham) and his 8-year-old stepson Sam (Théo Tougne). As to why this kindly old woman would allow this inordinately troublesome duo into her home makes no sense: the autistic boy is a thief and his father is belligerent. Helene attempts to train the boy to behave in a scene which can only be described as an overwrought, ugly stepsister to The Miracle Worker. The actors work overtime to compensate for a truly awful script, with clichéd dialogue like, “You must learn to forgive,” “You’re too good for me,” “That is not for me to say,” and “Hope for the best.”
Eva Breneman’s astute coaching was evident in all the dialects, and Alarie Hammock’s costumes were fitting for each period, although the best costumes of the night belonged to Faber and Bell, who go Full Monty in the best act of the night. Sadly, that lovely work is wasted in the same way that a fine wine is squandered by spoiled meat.
photos by Lee Miller
Making Noise Quietly
scheduled to end on November 4, 2012
for tickets, call 866.811.4111 or visit http://www.steeptheatre.com
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