CALLER #2: Lil?
LIL: This is Doctor Lil. How can I help you?
CALLER #2: This is Daemon, Lil. You got the answers?
LIL: Hi, Daemon. Of course I don’t have the answers.
CALLER #2: I need the answers.
LIL: The answers to what?
CALLER #2: I used to think the mind was a lot like electricity – this wild monster we’ve learned to control to do good instead of evil…
LIL: Why is that, Daemon?
CALLER #2: …but this woman I know, she wants to mess it all up.
LIL: What woman? Who are you talking about? Why do you disguise your voice?
CALLER #2: I want to hurt her, I want to do terrible things to her…
CALLER #2: …I want to do such awful things and I’ve got to find a way to stop. (He sighs – this is hard for him.) Oh God. Oh my God.
LIL: Who’s the woman you want to hurt?
CALLER #2: You’ve got to help me, Lil, you’ve got to help me stop.
LIL: I want to help but I can’t unless…
CALLER #2: (riding over) I’ve asked for help before but no one listens, no one knows what’s going on, I’ve killed animals, I’ve tortured animals…
LIL: Just tell me where you’re calling from. Or give me a place where someone can meet you to talk…
CALLER #2: (riding over) …but no one believes me, no one cares, this woman will die and no one cares enough to STOP ME!!! (Silence.) You can help me, Lil. I know you can. Only you can give me the help I need.
(Disconnect. There is only the sound of the dial tone. The light fades on Lil’s numbed face. A phone begins ringing in the dark.)
THE STORY: Talk-show host Doctor Lil takes a much-needed vacation with her husband in a cabin in the Adirondacks. Except her husband doesn’t show up – and an unwanted guest does.
THE BACKSTORY: Voices was a commission from A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle, following my success there with Willi. I directed the first production. There was one moment in that production of which I am quite proud. At a point in the second act, one character (in the dark) leaps out at Lil. On the night of the first preview I was standing in the back of the house, watching. I had leaned down to take a note, and missed seeing the moment I just described. But I heard it. I’ve never heard an entire audience shriek so loud.
The play was optioned, initially for off-Broadway, and the producers wisely sponsored a second production at the George Street Theatre in New Brunswick. It was directed by Chris Ashley, another wise choice, who later directed it on Broadway with the brilliant Judith Ivey. (My path had crossed Judy’s many times though we had never really met. Fate or something was pushing us toward each other, and finally it happily succeeded.) I had great hesitation about bringing it to Broadway. My last two experiences had been dreadful, and I had originally envisioned this as an off- Broadway venture. The producers had changed their minds, however, and though the play was not a financial success, I had a glorious experience. The cast, director, designers, and producers, were heaven-sent. Unfortunately, most of the critics were not.
The premise of the play is simple – it’s not what we see that scares us, it’s what we hear. Imagination is everything and can lead us everywhere, even to some very wrong and mistaken places. The play is deliberately modeled after the thrillers of the late 50’s/ early 60’s – it’s a woman-in-peril play with one important difference: this time around the woman has to get out of the peril all by herself. No one’s coming to the rescue – it’s up to you, babe. The metaphor is alarmingly obvious, making this as much a fable- or lesson-play as anything else. The combination of a life-affirming moral with a ghoulish blood-bath of a rubric’s cube of a puzzle has always amused me. The New Yorker critic got what others missed: “In this age of computerized gore, the actress Judith Ivey, playwright John Pielmeier, and director Christopher Ashley have achieved the impossible, a truly thrilling stage thriller….Ivey and the writing are smart and funny, and the scares, when they come, are both unanticipated and really scary…” I like this play.