By Robert P. Laurence
Elizabeth Montgomery has done some fine acting in "Between the Darkness and the Dawn." As for the scriptwriters, we-e-e-ell
An NBC made-for-TV movie, "Between the Darkness and the Dawn," airs at 9-11 p.m. tomorrow on KCST, Channel 39.
We are supposed to believe it concerns what the screen doctor calls "a rare encephalitis" which plunges a healthy teen-ager into a semicomatose daze for 20 years, then allows her to wake up to a changed world.
In truth, it's a scriptwriter's daydream: how about rewriting the Rip Van Winkle legend and making it a soap opera?
Let's establish one principle from the outset. Encephalitis does not
work that way. We are not dealing with a story based on fact.
"It sounds pretty much like science fiction," said Dr. Richard Smith, director of San Diego's Center for Neurological Studies, on hearing the plot for "Darkness."
In a recent case of encephalitis, he said, a man was in a coma for six to eight weeks, and has partially recovered. "That is considered extreme," Smith said.
"If a person woke up after a year, it would be extraordinary. For someone to wake up after 20 years would require new forms of therapy that we can't see on the horizon."
Encephalitis, he added, can result in comas lasting several years, "but people don't come out of them ... I think it's literary license to explore ...an interesting theme."
The theme in "Darkness" is that the victim awakens to find that her boyfriend has in the meantime married her sister, and their son looks exactly like the former boyfriend did at 17. Which is not too surprising because the same young actor, Tim Maier, plays both.
Montgomery plays the adult Abigail Foster (Lori Birdsong portrays the teen-ager), who one night after 20 unconscious years awakens to the sound of wind chimes in her window. She gets up, but falls and reverts to her comatose state.
A couple of scenes later, she's really awake. But she thinks she's still 17 years old, and she complains that her sister, Ellen, keeps borrowing her stuff and not returning it. That theme will surface again later.
Eventually she realizes something is wrong, and Montgomery's best
work begins as realization dawns.
"How long have I been asleep, Mama," she asks her mother, played by Dorothy McGuire. "How long? A month, a year, how long? Where are my posters, my school books, where are my clothes?"
Considering that the story is as shaky as Abigail's walk, Montgomery's' performance is quite solid, ranging from Abigail's puzzlement to her later happiness, resolve and lingering fear. All the while, her performance is convincing, understanding and subtle. Her anguish the first time she looks in a mirror and examines the changes in her face is almost palpable.
The rest of the performances, particularly McGuire's, are almost equally skillful, but all in a losing cause.
Pretty soon, Abigail is trying to rekindle her romance with David, now married to her sister. The sister is expressing the old sibling rivalries about who was prettier and smarter.
"I remember how she was, and why I couldn't stand her," mutters the sister, played by Karen Grassle. "She had everything."
Meanwhile, the doctor who cared for Abigail for 20 years simply drops from sight.
Meanwhile, all the obvious Rip Van Winkle possibilities are explored
one-by-one -- computers, video games, aerobics -- as the script continues to raise interesting dramatic possibilities and trivialize each in turn. Her life, meanwhile, turns into a continuous high school reunion: "You married Arthur?"
Eventually, Abigail forms an attachment to Jack Parrish, a teacher at the high school, and she resumes her own studies. But she has to defend herself against the possessiveness of her mother, who is unwilling to let go of the onetime invalid.
All the while, the drama offers one solid chuckle. At a dinner party Abigail is heard to utter incredulously, "Ronald Reagan is President!?" She explodes into uncontrolled laughter.
If you'd like to own a gorgeous copy of this Liz TV Movie on region free DVD, email me VictorMas@aol.com for details.
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