TELEVISION REVIEWS : 'THE FIG TREE'

A sensitive adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter's short story "The Fig Tree" marks the fourth-season premiere of "Wonderworks" Saturday on PBS (airing at 7 p.m. on Channel 50, 8 p.m. on Channels 28 and 15). Performed by a first-rate cast, Porter's child's-eye view of death takes a young girl out of her shadowy world of repressed grief into sunlight and survival.

A Texas family of 1903 has been crippled several years before by the loss of the mother in childbirth. Miranda (Karron Graves), the child, has grown up in a household of rigorously withheld emotion to become obsessed with death and locked in desperate isolation.

In the fig grove, Miranda compulsively tends a tiny graveyard filled with dead birds and insects until one day, just before she's rushed off for a trip to the family farm, she is terrified to hear a sound from the grave of a chick she has just buried.

The sound haunts Miranda, despite the fascinations of the farm and of her eccentric Great-Aunt Eliza (Doris Roberts).

Powerful undercurrents are evident between Miranda's seemingly indomitable grandmother (Teresa Wright), her melancholy father (William Converse-Roberts), against-the-grain Eliza and Aunt Nanny (Olivia Cole), who holds three generations of the family's memories. Rigid, well-meant expectations of doing what's right bump up against familial love.

Stephanie Keys' screenplay, which includes material from another Porter story "The Journey," creates a tapestry of evocative moments, unfolding almost too casually. Regret, despair and time's inexorable losses resonate painfully in the leisurely summer air, sweetened ultimately by Miranda's sudden awareness of nature's renewal.

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