John Pielmeier’s Voices in the Dark is intended as an absorbing thriller, but the one real mystery is why anyone produced such expensive but worthless garbage. Well, Pielmeier once had a sizable though unmerited success with his trashy but provocative Agnes of God, played to a lurid fare-thee-well by three fierce actresses. And there is such inertia in American minds that one long-ago hit can efface two subsequent Broadway catastrophes, as something keeps whispering into foolish ears (unseparated by brains) three magic words: Agnes of God. And so we get Voices in the Dark, distinguished only by the highly ingenious special effects of that wizard Gregory Meeh.
It concerns Lil, a psychologist turned radio-show host, counseling frantic telephone callers with the usual drastic problems. But one anonymous caller sounds insane and threatening, although Lil, at first, has other problems. Her own marriage is on the rocks, and she hopes to patch it up with her errant husband during a November weekend in their cottage in the Adirondacks, whence she will also broadcast, which involves installing a lot of extra electrical equipment conducive to the aforementioned special effects.
Lil is promptly snowed in, and hubby, delayed by canceled flights, is unable to join her. Left alone, she is exposed to assorted rather too colorful (strictly Day-Glo) locals: hulks and half-wits, telephone romancers and spurious cops, none of them couth. The ensuing machinations are devious but predictable, and include such staples as a body chopped up in the Jacuzzi, part of which may have migrated to a stew in the kitchen. There are the obligatory storms with faces lurking outside the windows, ever more menacing phone calls, malfunctioning equipment, frenzied scurryings about David Gallo and Lauren Helpern’s especially effective two-tiered set, striking light effects by Donald Holder (no malfunction here), and enough plot contrivances laced with ominous music to have kept Monogram Pictures in business a couple more years.
Unfortunately, Voices has only one splendid actress, Judith Ivey, who does everything from hot-coffee-tossing to butcher-knife-wielding with the same expertise with which she acts, but is finally forced into stridency by an unhinged script. The others are all good, Zach Grenier and Peter Bartlett even dazzling, and Christopher Ashley has directed with unfailing but unavailing savvy. Note that the cottage walls display enough antlered heads to staff a revival of Moose Murders, a far more rewarding play.