WHISPERS picOctober 2015

Remember when The Last House On The Left came out in 1972 with the tagline: “To avoid fainting, keep repeating ‘It’s only a movie…it’s only a movie…”? Or you might recall that horrific spine-chilling feeling when toward the end of watching the 1979 film When A Stranger Calls it was revealed that “…it’s coming from inside the house…”?

As I was headed to my car after seeing Footlights Theatre’s world premiere presentation of Whispers In The Dark, I found consolation in the phrase “It’s only a play…it’s only a play.” Lucky for me, no one lunged out of the chilly night, my cell phone had no bizarre messages, my gas tank wasn’t empty, the police didn’t need to be called, and I returned to reality relatively unscathed.

Perfect for the spooky season, Whispers In The Dark is described as a “terrifying play about a blind man who takes a much needed vacation with his wife at their cabin in the Maine woods. However, his wife never shows up and he is definitely not alone. Now, he has to survive the darkness of the night, proving that it’s not what we see that scares us, it’s what we hear.”

Whispers In The Dark is the clever work of Vermont Playwright Adam Phillips—although I can only guess he may have had creative inspiration from Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Zuiker (creator of television’s hugely successful “CSI” franchise). It is a fast-moving mystery thriller chock full of intense suspense, white-knuckle angst, surprising twists and good old-fashion spine-chilling fear. Like me, you’ll probably find your mind racing trying to figure out whodunit, only to be proven wrong by the very end—the very end.

So without giving away any clues, I can emphatically praise the quartet of actors for pulling off such a wonderfully disturbing and frightening entertainment experience. From the start, the audience is drawn in to feel like a part of the “family” (so to speak) with comfortable camaraderie, some levity mixed in with the dark strings—even a joke about Governor Paul LePage (hence the Stephen King influence). By the end—the very end—the audience is left completely horrified and isolated and emotional exhausted…

…though not as emotionally exhausted as Mark Calkins who plays the lead role of Dr. Steven McAllister, the blind radio host of the popular call-in show “Last Resort.” Needing to get away and ponder an offer to bring his show to national television, he plans to meet his wife (or is she?) for a weekend getaway in their cabin located in the Maine woods, 20 miles from town. The wife never shows up…marital issues add to the mounting tension.

But thankfully Mama is there to help (or is she?). Jackie Oliveri does a great job as the obliging, babbling, supportive but mentally-fragile mother. Her mantra: “I’ll get it” (or will she?). And nothing like a Nor’easter to add more problems. Steve’s buddy Jack (or is he?) is now forced to stay the night rather than drive home to Vermont.

Increasingly disturbing phone calls from a deranged caller named Damien (or is he?) are interspersed with incessant calls from Rose (or is she?) who turns out to be a nice cop from Chattanooga in town to speak at a conference. Rose and Steve arrange a “blind date” at Townknockers with Jack as the chauffeur…but they mis-connect, and when they get back to the cabin they discover the killing has begun. But thankfully, the cavalry arrives to investigate a neighbor’s complaint. Victoria Machado plays the Maine state trooper named Karen (or is she?).

Calkins, Machado, Bell and Oliveri are very good at bringing this world premiere to 3-D life. They know the audience is hanging on every word and action waiting for the next clue that can stop the shocking blood bath that ensues. But Calkins is most impressive in his role, never forgetting his blindness in his navigation of the set, and very visually and emotionally showing his character’s fear and vulnerabilities. By the time the play crescendos to a screeching halt, Calkins is drained and physically wiped out. Now that’s great acting!

The set is warm and charming with all the right set dressing to convey that unique Maine cabin feel…but not so much by the end—the very end. “Stephen King provided interior design,” said Michael J. Tobin in his welcoming words. Tobin directed the show along with Whitney Smith (or did he?).

Whispers In The Dark, continues until October 24th: Thursday at 7 PM, Friday at 7:30 PM, and Saturday at 2:30 PM & 7:30 PM. Call 207/747-5434 for tix and visit for more info.


–Louis Philippe


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