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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

Voices in the Dark, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston

Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $24 to $32. To April 4.

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