Two farm families, separated by nearly a century, are the subjects of the short stories dramatized on tonight's "American Playhouse" (Channels 28 and 15 at 9 p.m.).
"The Revolt of Mother" is set in 1890. Mother (Amy Madigan) is seething. Despite Father's ancient promise to build a new house on a choice plot of land, he has hired men to build a new barn instead. And he has done it without even consulting Mother. When Mother protests, Father (Jay O. Sanders) ignores her. But when Father goes away on a horse-buying expedition, Mother takes action.
Based on a 19th-Century story by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Cynthia Cherbak's script is a primary-color parable with a feminist message. While Madigan certainly makes us feel the frustration of a farm wife's lot, the lack of subtlety is almost comic. This yarn might spin more smoothly in a theatrical format; in Victor Lobl's film, the camera takes the story all too literally.
"Pigeon Feathers," adapted by Jan Hartman from a John Updike story, is more muted. David, a modern-day teen-ager (Christopher Collet), and his parents move back to the farm where Grandma and Grandpa used to live. Unlike the folks in the previous film, this family doesn't make its living from the land. But moving closer to nature does bring out in David a fevered desire to answer some of the big questions about life, death and the afterlife.
David's questions are better dramatized than is his answer, which is abrupt and glib. But until then, director Sharron Miller handles a delicate subject with precision.