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TV REVIEWS : Loving Adaptation of Saroyan Tale

March 27, 1993|LYNNE HEFFLEY

"The Parsley Garden," today's "Weekend Special" (at 11:30 a.m. on ABC, Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42), is a quiet little anomaly in children's programming: respectful of its source and lovingly filmed.

This half-hour adaptation of a 1949 short story by William Saroyan has been coaxed to life by Hank Saroyan, the author's nephew, who wrote and directed. Unintentionally, however, here the heart of the tale is found not in the young boy who finds his own honor and pride, but in the warmth of his hard-working Armenian immigrant mother, thanks to Adrienne Barbeau's graceful performance.

Christopher Miranda plays 10-year-old Al, a fatherless boy growing up in Fresno during the Depression. His mother works as a fruit packer and keeps a vegetable garden; they live frugally, but lace curtains and china attest to a more gracious past.

When Al steals a hammer because he "just wanted it," his resulting humiliation--from the overbearing store clerk (Curtis Armstrong), the benign owner (Tom Bosley) and his bewildered mother--inspires a new sense of self. He won't take money from his mother to buy the hammer; he works for it instead. The surprise ending underscores his newly awakened pride.

Saroyan imbues the moment in time with an aesthetic sensibility, but the subtext--Al's overwhelming shame and resulting spirit--is difficult to read in Miranda's surface self-containment. Barbeau, light-years away from the aggressive, blowzy bombshells she has played in the past, deepens the film with a gossamer delicacy as the loving, inarticulate mother.

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