One Life to Live has been showered with a lot of good critical notice lately since the more literate and lighthearted scripts of its new headwriter Ron Carlivati started to air last month. There's much hope that show's momentum won't be ruined with the onset of scab scripts to air in a few weeks. These scripts are the mark of the ongoing Writers Strike.
The show is also facing another serious loss: Nathaniel Marston, the actor who has played Dr. Michael McBain for the last few years, has been dismissed by the network. The actor, 32, who has a history of anger management issues, is facing four felony counts after assaulting three people on a New York City street in October. Published reports allege he may have been under the influence of drugs.
Despite his personal problems, Marston was tremendously popular with the audience because he uniquely played a regular guy on OLTL. Most soap heroes these days are wooden and unbelievable because they come to soaps with career histories limited to modeling or rock videos. They look -- and act -- like mannequins. (Yes, we're talking about you, Cameron Mathison and Ryan Lavery of All My Children, who's hiring started and exemplified this "only perfect looks" daytime drama trend in the 90s.) Marston, who has theater and film experience, brought a natural style and sense of realism to all his work.
This quality was already in evidence when he was hired for his first role, teen Eddie Silva on As the World Turns in 1999, and what brought him back after he was killed off from his first OLTL role, Al Holden, in 2001. The audience demanded his return and he was brought back in a completely new role, Michael McBain, by OLTL a year later. This is very rarely done on a soap.
Marston's Everyman likeability harkens back to a much earlier era on soaps, the 1960s and 1970s, when characters were permitted to look like real people with regular faces, not models. Such lower middle class characters as Sam Lucas on Another World (Jordan Charney) and Vinny Wolek (the late Anthony Ponzini) on OLTL were audience favorites because they were very vulnerable and easy to relate to and root for.
Even though Michael McBain is a doctor and wife Marcy is a schoolteacher (the equally natural Kathy Brier), they are easily the most working class characters on OLTL. (Most characters on soaps are wealthy now.) They are among a few long married couples on the soap and their squabbles are usually realistic. Right now, Marcy is on the run with the couple's haphazardly adopted son Tommy, who is really the biological son of show menace, Todd. A court has awarded the boy to Todd.
Marston's believability went a long way to strengthen the characters of others on OLTL. Michael's very odd brother John (Michael Easton) is a cop whose emotional problems and history prohibit him from forming lasting relationships with women. Scenes with Michael make John a lot more palatable to the audience. In the contest between Michael and Marcie over brutish Todd for the custody of Tommy, audiences naturally root for the McBains because of their likeability.
OLTL quickly recast the role of Michael with an unknown actor, Chris Stack, this week, almost as soon as it let Marston go. Whether or not the character will be instantly likeable is as yet unknown. He begins to air next month.
Still, Marston's loss is a great one for daytime. Good actors who can play regular, realistic guys are increasingly a rarity in a medium which thinks it can survive solely on a diet of increasingly pretty male faces.