OLTL's Scenery Diet
Grumblings about post-40th anniversary writing on One Life to Live have been growing recently. Even Ron Carlivati's biggest fans and cheerleaders are scratching their heads about a perceived drop in quality, including some like our friend Nelson Branco and TV Guide's Michael Logan. Personally, I'm not 100% on board with that specific criticism. I think the day to day writing is pretty much OK and very entertaining, with some glaring missteps in plotting. Unfortunately, Carlivati has developed a tendency to Guza-fy it up a bit with endless repetition of some themes ("Who's your daddy?" indeed) and his Paul Rauch-era 80's fetish does get a bit tiring. But that's not my biggest gripe.
Why in Sam Hill are so many actors chewing scenery as if it were part of an all you can eat Red Lobster buffet? Seriously, ever since the 40th anniversary and the end of the Writers' Strike, every episode seems to have at least two or three actors who floated in on a lifeboat from the good ship SS Passions and docked in Llanview Harbor. But here is the thing: I don't really fault the actors. Bear with me and I'll tell you why.
To be fair, many of the characters are meant to be over-the-top like Roxy and Dorian, played by the divine Illene Kristen and Robin Strasser, who leaven their antics with subtle touches of humanity and vulnerability. Others, like Sarah Roberts (Justis Bolding) and Michael McBain (Chris Stack), have been written as wet blankets for quite some time. And still others, like the Vega boys (David Fumero, Kamar de los Reyes), simply disappear for long periods. Nonetheless, there is lots of solid, strong work among the general cast.
But how to explain the recent rash of eyebrow raising performances? During the 1968 story, John Paul Lavoisier was like Jerry Lewis on NoDoz. Lea Delaria, who is loved in many quarters and is massively entertaining in her regular role as Delphina, was all over the map as Professor Del Fina in that story. While I kinda dug Melissa Archer's over the top take on Maria Roberts with that horrible Spanish accent (I don't think I'm the only viewer who remembers Barbara Luna's own campy over the top performance of the character in the go-go 80's!), but l don't know how much more my pressure can take of Archer's captive Natalie yelling at a closed circuit TV without a microphone...in a soundproof room. "I'm down here, Jared! Jess is Tess! I'm in a soundproof room, yelling at you!" Did I mention she is in a soundproof room? And Mark Lawson's suddenly crazed Brody did everything but spin his head and spit out pea soup!
And then there were three. One is Bree Williamson, who is a hoot as Tess/Jess/Tess pretending to be Jess. The other is Farah Fath, who has been one of the brighter additions to the OLTL team in recent years. So why in the name of Stella Adler is Williamson constantly mugging and eye rolling and smirking and doing little bunny hops and what-not to the camera whenever she's turned away from an unsuspecting character who, let's face it, should really suspect something is wrong with Jessica instead of "the convenient few" of Todd and Tina? And speaking of Tina, Andrea Evans has continued to channel her Passions character Rebecca to the point where Tina has almost been unrecognizable. On a slightly different level, why is Kristen Alderson's Starr, clutching her belly every 5 minutes as if the Olympic volleyball team might be passing through Llanview without warning?
Even the day player Llanview High principal got into the mugging act, cutting her eyes at Starr like a middle aged "mean girl"! Those crazy eyerolls said "Mama gon' knock you out!"
None of these criticisms are slams against these actors. With few exceptions, the major and supporting players have the capacity for strong work and have demonstrated their talent, acting skills and range when given the right material time and again. Also the very nature of some of these characters' storylines have a campy feel to them, calling for a more heightened style of acting. They don't call it melodrama for nothing.
But it has been my observation that when you have large numbers of actors chewing cud as we've seen over the last few weeks, the culprits responsible boil down to the producers and directors. Actors are either allowed to get away with excess or are directed to "amp it up" and "raise the emotion" and "sell the scene". When this happens more often than not there is an unintended loss of subtext and subtlety. Instead of selling the story, the actors wind up telegraphing or, in this day and age, texting their every move. The result is acting by emoticons. And we all know the actors cited here have done and can do so much better.
The writing of course has a lot to do with this state of affairs, but at the end of the day the actors are charged with "bringing the script to life." And that charge comes from the directors and producers. In this case, please Mr. Valentini, have your folk dial it down. Just a little.