The lion and the cobra

As I mentioned in my eulogy for Springfield, I’ll be spending the next few weeks talking about current and former Guiding Light cast members and characters.

I wanted to start off with two characters that are in the spotlight – and deservedly so – as the show ends. The journey for both of these characters feels very much like it’s come full circle.

The lion....

The lion....

Many soap blogs and journalists, including Mimi Torchin (via Nelson Branco), Lana Nieves (Superhero Lunchbox) and Pancakes and a Valium (what’s up!), have recently sung the praises of Tina Sloan. Let me add my voice to the chorus.

I met Tina back in December on my set visit, and she was so engaging and so fun to talk to. She’s so smart, so focused and so fearless, which only underscores what a great actress she is in bringing Lillian Raines to life.

Lillian’s life during much of the 80s and 90s was the life of a woman who was keeping her head down and trying to put one foot in front of the other. She survived an abusive marriage and the loss (for several years) of her daughter.

She was a somewhat fearful person who put other first. On the rare occasions that Lillian put herself first – like when she embarked on an affair with Ed Bauer – her life nearly fell apart.

But over the last few years, Lillian has grown by leaps and bounds. And in the last few months, Lillian has assumed the role of matriarch – a very powerful, focused matriarch – with ease. She confronted Beth about her choices with Coop. She supported Beth and Lizzie through various tragedies and triumphs. She’s been Phillip’s rock since he returned. And she’s in a mature, loving relationship with Buzz Cooper.

It’s been a joy to see Lillian in this light. Tina Sloan has always been one of the best things about Guiding Light, but we’ve taken that for granted for so long. Hooray that she gets some time in the spotlight before the Light goes out.

(I would be remiss here if I didn’t mention Changing Shoes, Tina’s one woman autobiographical play. I’m hoping I get to catch it soon!)

Some of Tina’s most powerful (and most humorous) scenes have been opposite Ron Raines, who’s played Alan Spaulding since 1994.

...and the cobra.

...and the cobra.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Raines during my set visit, and he was very unlike Alan. He’s a very warm, very funny guy, and incredibly smart.

Raines was definitely the right choice to play Alan. He had a big challenge, like his co-star Marj Dusay, in replacing an actor (Christopher Bernau) who was much loved and had made an indelible mark on the role.

There have been times where the writing hasn’t done Raines any favors. His strong theatrical presence, coupled with one-dimensional writing for Alan, has occasionally made this Alan seem like a mustache twirling villian.

But Raines knocks it out of the park when Alan is allowed to show his human side. Those flashes behind the stone wall of Alan’s face give Alan humanity, and Raines is SO good at playing all of Alan’s faces.

Seeing Alan’s clay feet was the motor in the best stories for Raines’ Alan. Alan’s romance with Cynthia Watros’ Annie had combustible chemistry, and it showed Alan’s capacity for love and concern. His cat-and-mouse game with Doris Wolfe (and temporary marriage) was comedy heaven, but it also showed the emptiness inside Alan and Doris.

I love the story playing out now with Phillip and Alan. It may be newly created backstory, but it ties together the long-running motif of toxic father/son relationships in the family, and it’s completely in character. And GL has deftly unmasked Alan, master manipulator and ogre, as a cowardly, fearful man who uses coercion and control to mask his insecurities. We’ve seen the Wizard behind the curtain in Oz, and he’s just a man – a scared man who’s fearful of losing his son and his family.

Raines is playing perhaps the best scenes he’s been handed since he started playing Alan, and he’s doing phenomenal work. I cannot wait to see where this journey ends up.

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2 thoughts on “The lion and the cobra

  1. Great piece, as usual, Patrick. I’m so glad people are starting to give attention and praise to the folks who have always been dependable and professional over the years – even when they haven’t been given much in the way of story lines. Long time viewers like you have always known that it’s the Tinas and Rons who have made GL worth sticking with, thriugh thick and thin, but a lot of newbies are only just now noticing just how important a part they play in the worldof Springfield.

    Kudos to the writers for not letting the lights go out on Springfield without Lillian and Alan tying up loose ends and having their days in the sunshine.

  2. Thanks for this post, Patrick. I am also pleased/surprised that Tina Sloan has gotten such great work to do this close to the end. I’m reminded of Hogan Sheffer’s tenure on As the World Turns, when Marie Masters as Susan took a more central role. Of the many talent vets that show boasted, Susan was not really on my radar until she was organically worked into the stories of so many other characters, and of course Masters was wonderful.

    With so many characters’ stories to wrap up, it’s nice that GL is taking the time to give Lillian a (so far) happy ending of her own – having grown so much from the woman she was when we first met her.

    I’m optimistic about the Phillip/Alan story – I’m glad that the writers have not simply tossed Phillip back together with Beth but instead are focusing on the most important relationship that character has had – with his father. Alan has been more complex in this story than he has in years. After the incredible scene where Alan confronted Phillip about his illness, I exclaimed to my wife, “Ron Raines got to act today!” Yes, the unnamed disease and sudden wartime backstory are frustrating, but the acting has been engaging and nuanced. In a way, Phillip and Alan are one of this show’s supercouples – and I’m glad that their story is being explored to a natural conclusion.

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