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Television Reviews : Legends Fuel Imagination in ‘Gryphon’ Tonight

When stuffy old Mr. Hibler misses school, mysterious Miss Ferenczi fills in, giving some inner-city grade-schoolers a taste of the extraordinary in PBS’ newest “Wonderworks” presentation, “Gryphon,” airing at 7 tonight on Channels 28 and 50.

Based on a short story by Charles Baxter, the teleplay, written by Manuel Arce and Carl Haber and tidily directed by Mark Cullingham, is a pleasant diversion, made captivating by Amanda Plummer’s performance as Miss Ferenczi.

Plummer plays a woman who marches to a decidedly different drummer. She tells the class about the Egyptians’ belief in reincarnation and the power of pyramids and announces that she saw the fabulous, mythological gryphon with her own eyes.

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She teaches them a song in Swahili and somehow two diaphanous angels appear, dressed in formal evening wear. “Angels hide their wings on Earth,” she says and tells the class there is no point in ever being afraid because an angel came to her in a dream and kissed her cheek.

A wacko, right? Not exactly. Plummer’s dignity, her wide, far-seeing eyes and sweet, broad smile convey a magic that changes the everyday into limitless possibility.

It’s a matter of “imagination and concentration.”

For street-wise Ricky (Alexis Cruz), whose artistic talent is at war with his need to be a tough guy, this unusual teacher illuminates the world, making it as accessible to him as the neighborhood streets. Assuaging his new thirst for knowledge is even worth being shunned by friends who say he’s “wimped out.”

They come around, however, and when Miss Ferenczi disappears as mysteriously as she arrived, she is irresistibly immortalized in a rap song, a fitting end to this offbeat little film.


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