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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
March 25, 1998. All rights reserved.
Review: Voices in the Dark
That’s right. Go ahead and feel safe and secure —
if you can — in your theater seat knowing that it’s not you on
the receiving end of that shot in the dark, not you letting out a
spine-chilling scream for help, not you who can’t reach 911 because
the phone lines have been cut. Admit it — better them than us.
It may take a psychologist to tell us why we enjoy being frightened,
why we yearn to enter the most sinister crevices of our mind. Although
the slice and dice thriller is more popular on film than on the stage,
playwright John Pielmeier hopes to change that with his fun-filled,
fatuously lurid new thriller, "Voices in the Dark," currently
playing at George Street Playhouse. His lead character, an attractive
woman who is also a psychologist and popular talk radio show host,
is just the person to show us how easy it is to be almost scared to
death. Better her than us.
It’s a dark and snow-stormy night when Dr. Lil Anderson (Gates McFadden)
finds herself unexpectedly alone in her husband’s remote mountain
retreat in the Adirondacks. You probably won’t be surprised by the
telephone call from her husband with the news that he has been detained
by business, monkey or otherwise. The menacing events begin to unfold,
and McFadden, almost never out of our view or harm’s way, keeps her
attractive face tense with fear in an effective performance as a terrorized
but tough damsel-in-distress.
In his popular Broadway success "Agnes of God," (1982) Pielmeier
served us a heady brew of mysticism and faith. He wasn’t as lucky
with his next two underrated Broadway efforts "The Boys of Winter"
(1986) and "Sleight of Hand" (1987). In the former play, Pielmeier
boldly confronted the mutilation of young manhood in Vietnam, and
in the latter he wove deception, magic, and murder into a cunning
adventure in illusion. Now, in "Voices in the Dark," Pielmeier
is reviving his penchant for mutilation, deception, and murder. Oh,
there’s magic in the air too, but it is mainly to be appreciated in
the dazzling interior design and the special effects that spark designer
David Gallo’s to-die-for (no pun intended) three level high-concept
log cabin setting.
Before the lights go out and the mayhem begins, you might want to
feast your eyes on this natural and organically constructed decor.
The deer-hoof lamps, the curious collection of animal skins draped
over imaginatively conceived rustic furniture, and the bear and deer
heads that adorn the walls are not necessarily clues to anything that
happens. But they do suggest, in their own way, the flair the creative
team (enhanced with eerie lighting by Donald Holder) has for celebrating
both the whimsical and the macabre. These are qualities that are readily
apparent in Pielmeier’s fright for fun melodrama.
As eager thrill-seekers, we are more predisposed than Lil to anticipate
the incoming rash of unnerving threatening phone calls, and the obligatory,
but unsettling, drop-ins out of the storm, all of whom seem to be
suffering from some form of psycho-neurotic disorder. Driven to the
cabin by her going-broke producer Hack (Peter Bartlett), Lil is not
keen on his suggestion that she switch her hit radio show "Last
Resort" to television, and give the show a more "primal"
tone. As it is, the unhappily married Lil is not at all sure she wants
to continue talking to desperate callers, many of whom are on the
verge of suicide or worse.
Things begin to happen as soon as Hack unwittingly leaves Lil in the
company of the emotionally unstable, grizzled handyman Blue (John
Ahlin), who tells Lil he was once a caller on her show and that he
enjoys writing in a gruesome vein. Also at the cabin for some unappreciated
loitering and leering is Owen (Robert Petkoff), Blue’s nerdish assistant
who is discovered fondling Lil’s underwear. And are we suspicious
that there may be some weirdness in the relationship between Blue
and Owen? What is Lil to do when the phone lines are tampered with,
and her dinnertime slicing and dicing in the kitchen gets out of hand?
There is plenty of frenzy for Lil and fun for us as the mysterious
and menacing phone-callers, one who might be the stalker, the other
a prospective lover, and a suspicious prowling detective (Jonathan
Hogan) prompts a shooting, a stabbing, a scalding, and a no-holds-barred
fight to the death.
So what if Pielmeier has conjured up characters too skewed to be really
scary, and plot twists designed to take us down some blind alleys,
even in the dark. Christopher Ashley’s taut direction takes obvious
delight in all the devious and depraved deceptions that abound here.
What is more fun in this genre than to laugh to yourself at the sheer
outrageousness of the plot, even as you are apt to scream aloud in
fright. Hardly in the class of such classic mystery melodramas as
"Sleuth" and or "Deathtrap," "Voices in the Dark"
still provides two pleasantly horrific hours. And I guarantee you
won’t want to sneak a peek into your Jacuzzi when you get home.
— Simon Saltzman
Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $24 to $32. To April 4.
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