It’s only coincidence that playwright-director-actor Gene Abravaya’s soap opera-themed “The Final Scene” coincides with the much-publicized cancellation of daytime TV staples “One Life to Live” and “All My Children.” Really.
The comedy — developed in Santa Rosa and now at Thick House — about the last day of filming for a long-reigning soap star crackles with an air of authenticity thanks to Abravaya’s experience working in daytime drama. It also careens deftly into farce, with perhaps just a dollop too much of the genre’s ever-present melodrama served up at the end.
It’s 1986 and Gretchen Manning (Jennifer Weil) has headlined “The Promising Dawn” for 18 years. Corporate politics and changing tastes have generated her pink slip and after several soap-style near-misses, her character must finally be killed off.
Wonderful at the grand dame hauteur the role needs, Weil’s execution of the physical comedy shtick feels a bit tentative, but there is genuine poignancy in her closing scenes. The large ensemble that surrounds her has wonderful moments either in the action or thanks to a series of interviews staged for an “end of an era” documentary being made about the soap star.
Michael Ray Wisely lives up to his name, making great choices as the tough and weary executive producer balancing personal needs and professional problems. Julia Hoff is a delight as the awkward alt-gurl stage manager with the unfortunate name.
Also notable are Eric Burke and Abravaya as a somewhat stereotypically written pair of union crew members — with Burke generating some wonderful character depth — and Freddie Lambert as the ex-con prop master who supplies Manning’s 80-proof coffee.
Nick Sholley reaches for, but doesn’t quite capture, the smarmy, self-oblivious leading man qualities — think Harvey Korman — that would put his character on even footing with the show’s diva. He is, instead, a bit bumbling and too easy to dismiss.
It’s also a case of close-but-not-quite for Rebekah Patti’s scheming assistant-turned-executive who opens strongly but seems to lose focus as her character gains and loses the upper hand through the plots twists.
Harry Duke is effective as the voice-only documentary maker, and funny, though a bit shrill, later as the leading man’s agent. Nora Summers has a minor role as a giggly stage hand.
Kudos go to the design team — Paul Gilger (sets), Eddy Hanson (lights) and Andrew Renquist (sound) — for effectively juxtaposing the alternating reel and real worlds of the show.
The Final Scene
Where: Thick House, 1695 18th St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 4
Contact: (707) 588-3429, www.the-final-scene.com