Voices in the Dark

Red herrings abound in John Pielmeier's new thriller, "Voices in the Dark." There's a body neatly sliced and diced in the Jacuzzi. Shadowy figures appear in the windows of a snowbound lodge, and there is a generous sampling of thunder and lightning. The formula for a good thriller is apparent, and while not a comedy, a recipe for good fun dominates.

With:
Caller - Nicole Fonarow
Lil - Gates McFadden
Hack - Peter Bartlett
Bill - Larkin Malloy
Owen - Robert Petkoff
Red - Charles F. Wagner IV
Blue - John Ahlin
Egan - Jonathan Hogan

Red herrings abound in John Pielmeier’s new thriller, “Voices in the Dark.” There’s a body neatly sliced and diced in the Jacuzzi. Shadowy figures appear in the windows of a snowbound lodge, and there is a generous sampling of thunder and lightning. The formula for a good thriller is apparent, and while not a comedy, a recipe for good fun dominates.

Pielmeier, who was successful with the mysticism surrounding a newborn child’s murder in a convent in the 1982 “Agnes of God,” and less so with the plotting of a devious magician in “Sleight of Hand,” has set up an intriguing new device for a lady in distress.

Lil Anderson (Gates McFadden), the host of “The Last Resort,” is a television therapist who takes phone-ins from serial killers and suicide-prone callers. She retreats to a remote Adirondacks cabin for a weekend getaway with her husband, but hubby is a no-show and the marriage appears to be on the rocks. No time is lost as the suspects, stalkers and sadists make their appearances.

Nobody can be trusted. There is Lil’s distraught producer (Peter Bartlett) pushing a concept for better ratings, a bearish ax-wielding handyman (John Ahlin) and his creepy assistant (Robert Petkoff), who fondles Lil’s undergarments. Add to this a dubious, interrogating detective with a sadistic streak (Jonathan Hogan).

A menacing phone caller also adds a touch of terror. The telephone becomes a frequent prop, as vital to the action as it was in Frederick Knott’s “Dial M for Murder” and “Wait Until Dark,” at least until the lines are cut.

If the plot seems filled with holes, and leaves too many questions unresolved , the play provides enough chilling moments to warrant more than a few gasps and screams.

Christopher Ashley has briskly staged the play, with some harrowing physical encounters and a knockout finale. McFadden nicely balances goose-pimple fright with the steely strength of an independent and resourceful woman. The assorted lineup of villains and intruders is drawn with oily skill, especially Hogan’s elusive cop.

David Gallo’s atmospheric double-tier cabin set has enough dark corners to keep an eye on. The rustic lodge’s bear and deer heads peer from beneath the rafters, frosted windows reflect the mounting snow storm, and then there’s that ominous-looking Jacuzzi.

The producers have an eye on Manhattan for a future production.

Voices in the Dark

(MYSTERY; GEORGE STREET PLAYHOUSE 360 SEATS; $ 32 TOP)

Production: NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. A George Street Playhouse presentation, in association with Ben Sprecher, Aaron Levy, William P. Miller and the Shubert Organization, of a play in two acts by John Pielmeier. Directed by Christopher Ashley.

Creative: Set, David Gallo; costumes, David C. Woolard; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Raymond D. Schilke; music, Albert Ahronheim; stage manager, K.R. Williams. Artistic director, David Saint. Opened March 7, 1998. Reviewed March 26. Running time: 1 HOUR, 55 MIN.

Cast: Caller - Nicole Fonarow
Lil - Gates McFadden
Hack - Peter Bartlett
Bill - Larkin Malloy
Owen - Robert Petkoff
Red - Charles F. Wagner IV
Blue - John Ahlin
Egan - Jonathan Hogan

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