Picks and Pans Review: American Playhouse: Roanoak

updated 05/26/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/26/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Mon., May 26, 9 p.m. ET)


American Playhouse, the best on PBS, has given us a disappointing season with such offerings as a bad movie long on videocassette (A Case of Libel), a revival of a play that deserved cobwebs (Rocket to the Moon) and a rendition of Huck Finn that made Perry Mason look scintillating. But here is the season's salvation. Roanoak, an exciting, fascinating and gorgeous three-hour mini stretched over three weeks, begins in 1584, when English explorers meet the natives of what is to become the "Lost Colony" of Roanoak. (I'd explain how the colony was lost, but I don't want to ruin the suspense in case you don't already know.) Roanoak is unique among historical minis because it lets its characters live and breathe. The explorers aren't so history-book stiff as the figures in Christopher Columbus or George Washington. More important, the natives look nothing like the wax statues of The Mystic Warrior. These natives—who speak Algonquian with subtitles—have a sense of humor. When Roanoak women get a whiff of the grimy Brits, one says: "They smell like rotten meat." And as the tribe watches this strange culture of men—after deciding that they are humans, not spirits—someone says, "I wonder how they mate without women." Another speculates, "Perhaps they're like worms—one sex." Roanoak uses considerable imagination to create life and give you a tale full of drama, conflict, painless education and plain entertainment. Thank the writers for that. Thank the director, Jan Egleson, for keeping the action moving. And thank the cast: Victor (I Had Three Wives) Garber s artist John White, who drew the way people lived in the New World and later became the colony's Governor; Joseph (Porky's II) Running Fox as Wanchese, an Indian who visits England and comes to resent and fight against the invasion of his world; Tino Juarez as Manteo, another Indian who visits England and becomes English himself; Will (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) Sampson as Roanoak chief Wingina and Victoria (The Mystic Warrior) Racimo as a woman of the tribe. I'm thankful that American Playhouse has struck gold again.

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