I didn’t know anything about the new (and relatively obscure) Exit Stage Left before watching, and it truly surprised me with the quality of its production, direction, and cast. Billing itself as “a web series of theatrical proportions,” the show mines the drama-heavy world of an off-Broadway theater company heading into production on a new play. As expected, the cast revolves around the prima donna playwright, the unbalanced female star, and other players — but these aren’t All About Eve-esque stereotypes or unbelievable caricatures.
Instead, the first episode aims for believability, as director Ronny Simons (Michael Navarra) begins the audition process while struggling to keep control of the egos threatening to take over the production. It’s more an introduction to the world than a full narrative, but the well-paced five minutes does set up all the conflict to come.
The quasi-improvised acting style and incorporation of documentary-style “interview” footage is more than a little reminiscent of the works of Christopher Guest, but while Guest often employs a voice-less documentary approach for films like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, Exit Stage Left is a little more explicit about the device. Pam William, the NYU film student making her first documentary, is a fully realized character in her own right, shown on camera interviewing other characters and, off-screen, updating her blog about the project — which will, one assumes, be a good source for behind-the-scenes gossip as the series continues.
Premiering on Christmas Day (according to series creator Sinohui Hinojosa via email, “We knew it was going to take a few episodes before we started building our following, and we wanted to make the first episode available so the cast and crew could share their hard work with their families and loved ones”), upcoming episodes are scheduled to debut on the 10th and the 25th of the month, with supplemental content being uploaded during off weeks. The show’s production values are on par with professional studio productions, enabled in part by an early sponsorship deal with independent film distributors Cinevolve Studios — though Hinojosa is looking for additional sponsors and hopes to announce more deals before the second episode premieres Jan. 10th.
There are no belly laughs in Exit Stage Left, but it’s both amusing and intriguing on first watch, and as the characters get a chance to develop fully over the course of the series the depth of both its drama and its comedy will definitely grow. In short, it deserves a chance — and if the medium of online video is as democratic as it claims to be, it’ll get one.
This review, along with more details about the show, can be found at NewTeeVee Station.