If I could pick one performer at As The World Turns who has made me believe everything they’ve ever been handed to play, that performer would be Colleen Zenk (Barbara).
Her Barbara Ryan has had one of the more complex journeys of any of the long term ATWT characters.
A few years ago, in a post for another site, I mistakenly described Barbara as an ingenue when she first became a front-burner character on ATWT – and was called out by readers and longtime viewers. Barbara may have been at the mercy of James Stenbeck, but as played by Zenk, she was never simply a one-dimensional heroine.
When I first started watching the show in 1985, Barbara had just undergone a subtle transformation into a bit of a bitch. That was thanks to Douglas Marland, who saw another side to Barbara. He paired her with Duncan, threw in a return visit from James (Hello, Barbara!) and then wove her into a push/pull dynamic with Hal Munson
Zenk has chemistry with everyone, but the hot/cool combination between Benjamin Hendrickson and Zenk Pinter was something to watch. It’s why they got married so many times – and yes, we still cared!
I also loved Barbara’s pairing with John Dixon, for many of the same reasons – two complex, flawed citizens of Oakdale trying to make it work.
I think every long-term fan has witness the huge changes at ATWT in its last decade of life. So many of them were either old characters presented with new faces (Dusty, Meg, Paul et al) or sometimes, characters that we knew very well acting…well, out of character.
Barbara certainly did a 180 from the perspective she’d had before. But unlike so many other characters, I believed in Barbara II and believed in the changes, partly because of how the story called back to Barbara’s history, and mostly because of the bravura performances that Zenk gave.
A lesser actress would have allowed Barbara to become a one-dimensional bitch, but Zenk showed us Barbara’s scars and reminded us that monsters aren’t born – they’re made that way.
Despite the rollercoaster nature of her most recent storyline, I find it very poetic that Henry and Barbara are linked. It seemed so odd in the beginning – especially if you consider that Henry had just learned he was a Stenbeck – but it’s actually one of the few ATWT storylines that to my eyes, feels like the heart and soul of classic ATWT.
It’s still simply Barbara – strong, willful, afraid to be vulnerable, but ferociously protective of those she loves. Henry and Barbara, two wounded scoundrels, might just find their redemption in each other. And that’s a testament to the immense talent that Colleen Zenk has brought to the show – the power to make us believe. No matter where she’s gone, I’ve willingly followed.