When spectacle trumps story

It’s all about great story!

That’s what soap magazines and all of us whiners in the blogosphere always say. We drive that point home with almost every post. (Of course, with the current focus on plot and spectacle on most soaps, I’m guessing that our suggestions fall on deaf ears.)

Every once in a while, though, great performers and great performances can trump a storyline that’s confusing, or pointless, or contradictory, or all of the above.

For me, the winner in that category has to be the Josh/Reva/Sonni/Will story on Guiding Light – a story that played out over twenty years ago. In the nearly 30 years that I’ve watched GL, this story stands out as one of my favorites.

I would love to tell you details, but honestly, I don’t remember what the hell half of this was about. I’ll try to fill in the basics for you, though.

robert-newman-photoWe all know Josh and Reva have been together forever (always?), but in 1984, Robert Newman (Josh) had left the show.

Enter Larkin Malloy’s Kyle Sampson, and a very popular Kyle/Reva pairing (one that the show has almost completely forgotten about, but the only romance for Reva, in my humble opinion, that ever came close to what she had with Josh).

In 1986, Newman returned, Malloy left, and Josh reunited with Reva. And though Josh’s initial return was exciting, Josh and Reva being happy got boring very quickly.

When Pam Long returned as head writer, she introduced Sonni, Josh’s believed-dead wife. When Sonni returned to town, Josh made a go of his marriage with her, and left Reva behind.

Reva had some drama of her own to deal with, including her belief that Marah was Kyle’s daughter. She also was dealing with Alan, who had originally brought her to town and, in some very memorable scenes, offered Reva $250,000 to tell her a haunting story from her childhood about eating garbage. (I so wish those scenes were on YouTube – again, some of my very favorite scenes, ever, on GL.) Kim Zimmer

Also along for this particular ride was Will Jeffries, a psychiatrist who was, I believe, Josh and Sonni’s friend – as Sonni was also a psychiatrist. Or psychologist.

I think.

Here’s where it gets a bit muddy. (It’s muddy partly because I think the writers’ strike in 1988 changed the original long term-story.)

F1R0J2For a while, Sonni looked like she might not be Sonni, but instead her evil twin sister Solita. We knew Solita was bad because she smoked clove cigarettes and danced in nightclubs to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Peek-a-Boo.”

Solita and Will went to Venezuela, whispered a lot, and started lurking around and getting their creep on. Strange people sought out Will, who by now had insinuated his way into Mindy Lewis’ life and married her, and began to refer to him as “Guillermo.”

Solita turned out not to be Solita but instead was Sonni. Sonni had a bad case of the Niki Smiths after she watched her sister commit suicide, and had sublimated her personality.

I think.

This all sounds like the worst budget movie ever made on paper, but let me tell you, this story was IT.

I remember watching this at my college dorm and people were MESMERIZED.

It was just mysterious and gothic enough to really work, and the chemistry was so wonderful.

Michelle Forbes was amazing: her Sonni was a character the likes of which we’ve never seen before or since on GL. She had chemistry to spare with Robert Newman, Kim Zimmer and Joseph Breen (Will), and was able to go toe-to-toe with greats like Michael Zaslow and Beverlee McKinsey and hold her own.

This story also created a few templates, to be sure. Sonni was the first in a long line of non-Reva spouses for Josh that were a bit on the crazy side (Annie and Olivia would follow).

And while many of us remember the Reva/Annie rivarly, Reva/Sonni was just as glorious. Their animosity came to a head during some intense scenes on a wooden suspended bridge. (Zimmer herself said the scenes were so intense and scary that after they were done, she needed a shot of vodka, “straight.”)

All four of the performers in this story made it work. Sometimes, when the bigger picture is fuzzy, a story can work because the actors who play them paint their characters in smaller strokes, and give them definition that make it all come together. will

A postscript: We know Newman and Zimmer’s accomplishments, and Michelle Forbes has gone on to a long and illustrious film and television career.

But I miss seeing Joseph Breen, who played Will.

Breen went on to play ATWT’s Scott Eldridge, one of Douglas Marland’s final creations, but was let go after a tabloid newspaper disclosed that he was HIV-positive.

Breen had a quiet intensity, and I wish he’d pop up on our screens somewhere. It’s well past time for ATWT to revisit Scott, and see where his life has taken him, don’t you think?

NOTE: Snapper, a talented writer and GL fan, has written a blog entry that references this story, too. You can see it here.

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7 thoughts on “When spectacle trumps story

  1. I remember the Sonni/Solita storyline very well; like you, it caught my attention and moreover, KEPT it. I knew when I was watching it that any show that got Michelle Forbes would be exceptionally lucky and of course I’m gratified to see that she’s been so successful post-GL.

    I also remember Joe Breen on ATWT as Scott Eldridge and the whole scandal about Breen being HIV-positive. I was very angry at TPTB who booted him off the show because of it! Here’s hoping wherever Mr. Breen is he is healthy and happy. (And yes, I would love to find out whatever happened to Scott!)

  2. I remember this story being so compelling BECAUSE it was so confusing. Every day we weren’t sure if it was really Sonni or Solita. I distinctly recall a scene with a maniac Sonni/Solita pushing Reva into an open grave and pushing fistfuls of dirt on top of her. She was rapidly on her way out of control and no one was certain which was the real personality.

  3. I spent an afternoon interviewing Joe Breen when he was on Loving. Intense wasn’t the word! He really was very, very interesting, and very….grave and well, surreal, almost not of this world! He was a great, great talent. He had his little beautiful daughter with him. Wonder where they are now.


    Connie, I know that a few years back (2006, according to Wikipedia) he married Carlene Carter, the singer (June Carter’s daughter and Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter). I haven’t heard any more about him acting. You’re right – he has a really unique quality about him.

  4. This material was convoluted and before I watched GL. The story was a lot longer than it was supposed to be due to the strike, which is why it got so muddy supposedly. Have a videotape somewhere of part of the story (actually it has when Calista Flockhart was on GL for like a day), and Reva/Sonni on the bridge. I haven’t watched it in 8 to 10 years. The performances were good, from the highlight reel that I had. I could understand why Josh would be with her, though I didn’t understand why Alan didn’t bring her to town to screw with Josh’s life. 😉

  5. Thanks for the link, Patrick. Reading what you’ve written brings a smile to my face because I, too, am at a loss when it comes to remembering the actual details of this story line. It’s all “South America” and “Sonni, Solita…which one are you???” in my mind. I do, however, remember how damned compelling it was! This was must-see stuff. And Breen/Forbes were just amazing. So much so that, to this day, I still think of Michelle Forbes as Sonni. Or Solita. I’m never quite sure. (And, of course, she’s another GL/Star Trek crossover)

  6. I had to go find some sonni clips on youtube after reading this (all the big hair was awesome!). I had completely forgotten this storyline. Michelle Forbes was fantastic.

  7. I am a huge Carlene Carter fan, so I wanted to learn something about her husband. (She is married to Joe Breen.) I read some messages saying they didn’t know what happend to him or what he’s doing, etc. He is working with Carlene like going with her on shows and singing with her that kind of thing.

    You can hear him sing with her in her new CD Stronger 2008. You can also see pics of him with her on her web site (carlenecarterfanclub.com). And in 2006 he did the play Wild Wood Flowers with Carlene. He played her dad Carl Smith.

    Thanks Angela! Joe is a great actor. He got a raw deal when he left daytime and has been much missed.

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