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December 08, 1985|HOWARD ROSENBERG

"LOVE IS NEVER SILENT," Monday, 9 p.m. (4) (36) (39)--Here's a promise. You will not see a TV drama this season better, brighter and more eloquent than "Love Is Never Silent."

This "Hallmark Hall of Fame" drama is exceptional and very special, a near flawless execution of a wise, tender and acutely soulful story about a hearing daughter and her deaf parents in the 1930s and 1940s. It is a live wire, a bull's-eye, seeing with new eyes and hearing with new ears, tapping new senses and pushing new buttons. It is a lovely, achingly real, intense and sometimes angry small film that blows away musty definitions and explodes stereotypes.

Margaret Ryder (Mare Winningham) is her parents' bridge between their deaf world and the hearing world in an era when "deaf and dumb" is ignorantly used to describe those unable to hear and hence verbally speak in a way that is intelligible to the rest of society. To be different is to be inferior.

Deep conflicts occur when Margaret sets a different course for herself, falls in love and marries--conflicts that tear apart her family and strain her marriage. Ultimately, though, Margaret and her parents resolve their differences, leading to an emotional ending that is predictable, but also honest and satisfying.

You just have to love this story, which is the sum of many contributions.

It is stunningly directed by Joseph Sargent. A busy scene in which Margaret's parents host her husband's mother and brother for dinner is one of the best you'll see anywhere. Sargent masterfully harnesses tensions and clashing emotions without sacrificing a sense of spontaneity.

Just as stunning are the performances by Winningham and deaf actors Phyllis Frelich (a Tony winner for "Children of a Lesser God") and Ed Waterstreet as Margaret's parents. Emmys? The line forms here.

As Margaret, Winningham must speak both many of her own lines--while simultaneously interpreting in American Sign Language--and those of her parents. Winningham learned to sign in less than a week and does it so naturally that at first you're hardly aware that she's signing while speaking, and vice versa. It's a striking accomplishment, and amazing, considering TV's condensed rehearsal time and shooting schedule.

If ever you doubted how much of acting is non verbal, though, watch Waterstreet and especially Frelich, who . . . just ... soars . Watch her eyes. Watch her body. She's extraordinary, brilliant. Pick your superlative.

Meanwhile, that consummate actress Cloris Leachman swells a tiny, quiet role as Margaret's mother-in-law into a 10-gun salute.

More credit. The executive producer is Marian Rees, and the co-executive producer is Julianna Fjeld, who also has a small role in the story. Fjeld is herself a deaf actress who first obtained the rights to the Joanne Greenberg novel ("In This Sign") upon which Darlene Craviotto's fine script is based. Dorothea G. Petrie is the producer.

The sounds of silence, indeed.

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