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TV REVIEWS : 'David's Mother' Hides Behind Jokes

April 09, 1994|RAY LOYND

She's known to refer to him as a moron. It's her jokey way of dealing with her son's mental retardation.

In "David's Mother," Mom (a withering, caustic Kirstie Alley) delivers a stream of snappy one-liners in order to conceal her guilt and self-sacrifice. Trouble is, her rapier shield drives all her loved ones away, including a husband, a shop-happy sister (Stockard Channing) and a sensitive new boyfriend (Sam Waterston). A social worker (Phylicia Rashad) hardly fares better.

Robert Randall initially wrote "David's Mom" for the stage (it was produced at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1992) prior to becoming producer and head writer of "Kate & Allie." But his teleplay, instead of enlarging on the characters or illuminating them in a different light, essentially approximates the play.

That's fine as far as adhering to the play's integrity but we're still stuck with a mom who wears thin. As in the play, too much of the mother's pain is buried under Alley's arch patter and her defense structures. You tend to observe the hurt more than feel it.

Nevertheless, the TV production provides flashes of penetrating drama, and the actors playing the mentally impaired son are hard to forget. Michael Goorjian as the teen-age youth and 9-year-old Steve Ivany, who is autistic, as the small child in the flashbacks, contribute a wealth of physical and emotional detail that underscores the familial havoc.

Theatergoers may be reminded of another play with similar aims, Peter Nichols' "Death of Joe Egg," which also shut out reality by joking about it but did it with more savagery and starkness.

* "David's Mother" airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on CBS (Channels 2 and 8).

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