Thursday, February 9, 2023

REVIEW: 'Poker Face' - A Trap Door Provides Awe and Terror During a Regional Theater's Latest Production in 'Exit Stage Death'

Peacock's Poker Face - Episode 1.06 "Exit Stage Death"

Charlie's waitress job at a dinner theater is interrupted by a tragic death on stage during a performance by two washed-up television stars. When she starts to investigate, deadly motivations come to light.

"Exit Stage Death" was written by Chris Downey and directed by Ben Sinclair

Kathleen Townsend and Michael Graves are best remembered as the stars of the show Spooky and the Cop. The show is beloved by a very niche audience that grew up with it. However, the two no longer have much relevance. Michael is comfortable living off the millions of his much younger wife, Ava. Meanwhile, Kathleen desperately yearns for more rewarding acting roles. She insists a one night only performance of the play Ghosts of Pensacola will provide the spark and attention they need. They are both actors who thrive in the spotlight. That's what they crave more than anything else. It would be phenomenal to watch unless their animosity burns the world down before the curtains rise. It's all initially played as two narcissistic actors constantly butting heads. They can't forget the past. In fact, they anger each other so much that they are willing to kill the other. They will disrupt this play they've placed their hopes and dreams on to achieve that goal. It goes awry. Ava is the one ultimately killed. It's at that point the true nature is revealed. It's actually a nice in-verse of the gold-digging wife trying to steal the wealth of her much older husband storyline. That's a trope of this particular genre. This show understands the contours of that story to play around with its mechanics. It's established right away that Michael depends on Ava. Moreover, Ava sees this play as the crushing blow she hopes to deliver to Michael's acting career. She doesn't see it as feasible for him. It's better for him to give up now. He shouldn't continue dwelling in the past. Acting is how Kathleen and Michael connect to the truth. At least, that's what they say to convince themselves of their own worth. This material provides them with the fuel to tackle anything. It's how they convey more humanity than at any other point in their lives. They still carry this deadly secret. They staged this whole fight to make it seem like Ava's death was accidental. All blame can be placed on Phil the stage manager because he fell asleep on the job. Of course, it's still rather easy for Charlie to uncover the truth. Kathleen and Michael don't try very hard to cover up the evidence of their crime. They don't seek to understand the behavior of their fellow humans. They believe a convenient distraction is good enough to avoid suspicion. Kathleen has this narrative mapped out. She even drew up a script to follow. She decides to throw the book out the window once she realizes this story brings more attention to her career than she initially thought. That just sets up the expectation that this play can never end because someone always ends up dying.

Charlie isn't the only person compelled to investigate either. Rebecca is the third actor onstage. Kathleen looks down on her because she's not off-book during the first rehearsal. Moreover, she has a peanut allergy and has a very specific lunch order for the stagehand to follow. These are all trivial details. They simply disrupt Kathleen's notion of what counts as serious work in this profession. And yet, Rebecca recognizes how this crime is a straight ripoff of a plot from Kathleen and Michael's old show. They didn't even change the dialogue. They weren't trying to hide their motives at all. That showcases their creative limitations. They achieved fame for a specific amount of time. They have been chasing that high ever since. That's quite common in the creative fields as Charlie has found out. She interacts with people desperately craving that attention. It's hard to maintain. In fact, Kathleen appreciates how Charlie calls her out for her bad acting. That provides her with a reason to dig deeper. It's the wake-up call she needs to better hone her craft. That's still serious to her. For Charlie, she doesn't actually care about the magic of the stage being broken. She has a mystery to solve. She questions the purpose of the second performance. It seems in poor taste to make the staff work after they witnessed a woman die. It's even more dangerous to keep the trap door stunt in the performance. That's what Kathleen demands. Everyone listens. Charlie tried to block out the noise of this environment. She has grown accustomed to calling out bullshit whenever she hears it. She has adapted to life with this special skill. And yet, she has rarely seen acting performances where the truth is properly conveyed. Kathleen isn't doing that. Every line is a lie. That's what makes it notable when the truth slips out. It's all about deciphering what it means. Charlie sees the love between Kathleen and Michael through their characters. She actively tries to prevent deaths. She doesn't want Kathleen to be targeted during yet another performance. It takes a moment to realize Kathleen was actively trying to kill people. Rebecca had no connection to Ava. She simply saw an opportunity to be paid millions. She was comfortable selling her silence. Charlie isn't wired that way. She sees people in danger. She risks her own life to save them. Nothing like a line on the floor will stop her from doing so. Sure, that requires her to awkwardly insert herself into the play. She doesn't really know what's going on. Her message is still received. Moreover, she has rigged the system against Kathleen and Michael so their backstage confession is heard by everyone in attendance. That once again provides Kathleen with the fuel to hit her heartbreaking final moment onstage. Even Charlie gets caught up in the drama. It's the first showcase of everything working out as intended. The magic of the stage is believed. That can't prevent Kathleen and Michael from arrest. That fate awaits them. But the work onstage is just as powerful and seductive. It must be completed even though that wasn't the initial reason for doing this regional theater work. Now, it's all they have to maintain their grasp on freedom. It's so brief but so moving in the honesty as well.