Character Actors Add Much Needed Character To Soaps

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Bergen Williams as truth-telling Alice Gunderson on General Hospital

Soap stories, most of which are about romance and love triangles, do tend to get repetitive.  Adding variety and spice to this formula are character roles, which do a lot to make soaps more interesting.  These characters often provide comic relief and serve as “talk tos” for the main characters.

Colorful and amusing character parts have enriched soaps since the beginning.

On Another World in the 70s, Anne Meacham as Iris’s assistant Louise Goddard always drew laughs when she talked to plants about  the show’s tangled plots, “confiding” in the greenery in a deep, soothing voice. In the 80s, Brent Collins on AW  was memorable as Felicia Gallant’s wise-cracking sidekick.  (A versatile actor, he also played the evil, unfunny Mr. Big on As the World Turns.)  At the same time on Days of Our Lives,  Arleen Sorkin and  John DeLancie served as comic foils to leads Marlena and Roman – Arleen as the ditzy blond  Calliope and John as the stuffed shirt Eugene.  Meanwhile, on All My Children, the country-fried Opal (Dorothy Lyman, Jill  Larson) was the talk-to for Erica, and was so popular she became a main character.

Now more than ever, today’s meager menu of four soaps needs to be made tastier by the addition of the adroit services of stellar character actors:

All the goings-on at The Bold and the Beautiful’s Forrester Creations are comically commented on by Pam (Ally Mills) and her boyfriend Charlie (Dick Christie), turning the office staff into an irreverent Greek chorus. Often they “get” what’s happening before the main characters do. Pam, you may recall, was first to catch on to how crazy Quinn is.

A fine example of comic acting was on display just this month as Ilene Kristen guested on General Hospital as her old  Ryan’s Hope character Delia Reid Ryan, her patented kookiness undiminished by the passing years,  Delia, in a real stroke of writing brilliance, was revealed to be the mother of  Ava (Maura West).  Like mother like daughter — both are conniving  and mocking. This time Delia came to stay with pregnant Ava and her baby daddy Sonny and wound up busting into Sonny’s safe before she was escorted out of town by Sean.

Another comic character that is much beloved by the GH audience is Alice Gunderson (Bergen Williams), the truth-telling wrestler and former Quartermaine maid who is now a real thorn in the side of Tracy.  Alice is on to the fact that Tracy is trying to secretly take over ELQ, the family business.  Recently Alice proved she really does have a heart by having a heart attack, and now needs a heart transplant to save her life.

Speaking of thorns, a shining example of tour de force character acting is now being offered by Ray Wise, whose seductive con man Ian Ward is now a thorn in the sides of many Genoa City residents on The Young and the Restless.   Right now, he’s suing Nikki for emotional disturbance (!) because she lied and told him he was Dylan’s biological father. In this storyline, Wise has been particularly well paired with Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki) and Eric Braeden, who plays Nikki’s exasperated and combative  husband Victor.

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Y&R: Nikki Newman’s Great Strength

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Melody Thomas Scott

One of the great things about daytime soap opera is how strong the women characters generally are.  They have to be that way to survive the problems continually thrown at them in their everyday lives. At the same time, they must be vulnerable to the vagaries of romance. The head may know best, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

One of daytime’s strongest women characters is also one of its historically most vulnerable. She is Nikki Newman, as played with such phenomenal depth and power for the last thirty years by Melody Thomas Scott on The Young and the Restless.  For the last six months Nikki has been fighting a situation that has shaken her to her very core:  She found out the baby she gave up to adoption as a young teenager is in fact the new man in town, Dylan McAvoy (Steve Burton). How, she wonders, can she earn his filial devotion?

The baby was conceived under very shady circumstances.  As a young girl, Nikki joined a cult led by a very influential, shifty and pushy man named Ian Ward.  Ward seduced the young girl and Nikki carried the baby to term, giving it up for good with the assistance of some local nuns.

One of the first things Nikki did after she revealed herself to the grown Dylan as his mother was to make sure that he knew that Ian, the rat, is his biological father.  Dylan researched Ian and found out he was still up to his old tricks, living as a shady youth counselor named John Darwin.  Darwin came to Genoa City and has since haunted the lives both of Nikki and Dylan.

Ian’s unwanted attention has been particularly frightful for Nikki, especially when he breaks the security of the Newman estate and shows up in Nikki’s living room.   But what’s really tested Nikki is Ian’s plot to similarly influence and seduce her young granddaughter Summer, who is the daughter of Nikki’s other son Nick Newman.

As played so beautifully by Scott, Nikki is able to be strong despite her fear. Even though she was frightened, she stood up to Ian, telling him she is not afraid of him.  He requested a $5 million payoff to leave town, and Nikki showed up with a fraction of the amount.  Then she scared him away from Summer, demonstrating her great strength as a character and a leading lady.

One of the great highlights of this plot has been the performance of Ray Wise, a soap opera veteran and perhaps best known for the role of Leland Palmer on Twin Peaks.  His Ian Ward is just the right shades of charming and smarmy and has had wonderful scenes with both Scott and Hunter King, who plays Summer.

Now that Ward has been exposed as a scoundrel, will he turn up dead?  And will it be Nikki — or someone else — who kills him?