Arts & Events

Eye from the Aisle:THE FINAL SCENE at Thick House promises much, delivers less

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday August 16, 2011 - 01:38:00 PM
Jennifer Weil as “Gretchen Manning”
Eric Chazankin
Jennifer Weil as “Gretchen Manning”

Gene Abravaya has written, directed, and even plays a minor role in a play about the last days on camera of a famous soap opera star. THE FINAL SCENE, now playing at Thick House in SF, starts with a serious monologue played with easy realism by one of my favorites, Michael Ray Wisely. It then builds with good natured quips, the kind of banter that in good comedies builds to some big laugh lines. Those big laugh lines never materialize, and after a while the audience grows less responsive. The actors start out with believable behavioral acting, but even that starts to slip late in the first act, when they begin to push as the material grows thin. There is some physical comedy—one of those farcical chase scenes with mayhem in mind—that is staged so lamely as to pop the bubble of credulity and make you want to look away. The climax of the first act—a punch—is phony, and everything sags after that. Into the second act, the tone grows bickeringly contentious, resolves into recriminations, then wanes into a soliloquy of maudlin reverie.  

The set, however, is wonderful. 

But I neither snoozed nor longed to get home to Google the price of gold—which happens far too frequently at the theatre. I was mildly entertained even after the initial hopeful jocularity ebbed away.  

The scenes are interspersed with each character stepping into the spotlight to have an interchange with an unseen documentary film maker at the back of the house, so that we, the audience, are sort of monkey-in-the-middle like the format of “Chorus Line.” It breaks it up nicely and engages us. The characters are varied and recognizable. It’s just that the writing raises our expectations and leaves us hoping for more: its change of tone affects us like the air being slowly let out of a balloon.  

There is some engaging quality about each actor but I’ll restrict this review to pointing out two performances that struck me as particularly promising. Nora Summers has one of those walk-ons that are so difficult to play, on no more for maybe six minutes total, but plays it so convincingly in total honest response to the other actors, and has that glow that makes your eye go to her, that I would be intrigued to see her in more productions. Julia Hoff plays a sort of Goth tough girl stage manager with a parti-colored coif and the unlikely name of Shelley Fabares; she acts with a cinematic realism which is particularly effective in a studio production. 

The set is almost worth the twenty five simoleons admission in this barren economy. A perfect soap opera living room with bay window, wainscoting, hearth, foyer, and scones, it tickles the eye and raises the hopes in the pre-set. Credited to Paul Gilger who designed ILM Studios and a raft of sets for everyone from Madonna to the Super Bowl (which made me want to hear the story about how he got involved in the production). Andrew Renquist designed the sound: the pre-show sound is amusing since it seemed to be theme songs from soaps, and the show features a wacky sound engineer that keeps making musical jokes. Eddy Hansen‘s lighting is subtle and appropriate with flawless cueing and transitions, and is bright enough to keep us awake. The costumes by Pamela Enz match the realism and quality of the sets, and favored the ladies who were bedecked quite stylishly befitting their roles; the only noticeable flaw was the male lead’s mismatched suit pants–which is sort of a metaphor for the production.  

THE FINAL SCENE was brought down from Solano County where it premiered at the Sixth Street Theatre in Santa Rosa, and several of the actors are from there. A former New Yorker, Abravaya worked his way up from prompter to associate producer on the network soap opera “As the World Turns” from 1974 to 1979. Then he moved to Los Angeles to work in television production where he worked on situation comedies like “Family Ties,” “Facts of Life” and “The Jeffersons.” Abravaya is the managing director of the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert. THE FINAL SCENE is produced by Wildecard Productions, which is the production company of lead actress Jennifer Weil. 

The FINAL SCENE plays at Thick House at 1695 18th St. near DeHaro in San Francisco through September 10. 

Produced by WildeCard Productions in association with Spreckels Performing Arts Center. 

Info/Tickets at 

WITH: Michael Ray Wisely*, Nick Sholley*, Jennifer Weil*, Eric Burke, Harry Duke, Julia Hoff, Freddie Lambert, Rebekah Patti, and Nora Summers. (*AEA) 

John A. McMullen II is a member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, and holds an MFA in directing from Carnegie Mellon University and an MA in drama from San Francisco State. Editing by E J Dunne.