Every time a drama comes along about the travails of growing up, we’re reminded of “Catcher in the Rye,” the great teen-age story that has eluded film makers (because author J. D. Salinger won’t permit anyone to adapt it).
Meanwhile, a quietly evocative dramatization of youthful awakening turns up tonight in “Love and Other Sorrows” on PBS’ “American Playhouse” (9-10 p.m. on Channel 28, 10-11 p.m. on Channel 15). The production is heartfelt, conveying a sharp sense of time, place and lost innocence.
The tone and mood are refreshing because the 16-year-old protagonist (portrayed with disarming simplicity by Stephen Mailer) is a sweet, floundering, private, sensitive kid looking for romantic ideals at a time (1950) just before television and rock music changed America.
Dick Goldberg’s teleplay, adapted from the short story “First Love and Other Sorrows” by Harold Brodkey, nicely captures the first-person viewpoint of the endearing hero, not an easy thing to do in film. And director Steven Gomer adds to a specific reality by refusing to rush things. He lets the emotional clock tick, as in real life.
All the better to re-create the past, the way it was for a youth living with a widowed mother (Elizabeth Franz) who pours all her attention into marrying off his pretty older sister (Haviland Morris) to a rich beau who can bring the family some security.
Ultimately, the thud of love’s sorrow falls on the protagonist just at the moment of his own first blush of romantic euphoria.
“You want to hear something funny,” his sister confides to him. “I really don’t like my ring.” He’s stunned to realize his sister is not marrying for love but out of pressure and fear.
“Then don’t get married,” he responds with an open face. Sounds simple to him. “You don’t understand.” She smiles wanly.
Moments later, subdued, he sits with his chortling mom and his quiet sister in the kitchen to celebrate her wedding date. Fade out and score one for growing up.