`Stones for Ibarra' a touching drama. TV production captures essence of honored novel

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Stones for Ibarra CBS, tomorrow, 9-11 p.m. Stars: Glenn Close and Keith Carradine. Writer: Ernest Kinoy, based on novel by Harriet Doerr. Director: Jack Gold. Executive producers: Herbert Brodkin and Robert Berger. When something memorable happens in the Mexican village of Ibarra, the residents place stones at the spot to commemorate the event. There is a mound of stones outside the hacienda on the hill near the copper mine where Sara and Richard Everton have resettled from San Francisco. They make a memorable life for themselves, as they learn to admire the character and dignity of the natives of the area while Richard lives out his last days.

``Stones for Ibarra'' is an unusual television drama - it's dreamy, impressionistic, lyrical, full of flashbacks and flash-forwards - as the past and future are investigated with delicacy and sensitivity.

Yet at the same time, this drama is also realistic as it pursues the meaning of life as the couple faces up to the prospect of death.

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The drama is adapted by Emmy-winning writer Ernest Kinoy from the National Book Award-winning novel by Harriet Doerr.

It is filled with thoughtful observations about local customs. For instance, the locals coming for a visit look in the windows out of courtesy before knocking, because it is considered impolite to pound on the front door if people are doing something important inside.

Sara is portrayed by Glenn Close with delightful restraint, particularly in contrast to her marvelously unrestrained performance in ``Fatal Attraction,'' her latest film.

At first, she is given to observations like: ``Memories are like corks out of bottles. They swell and no longer fit.'' But then, after living among the people of Ibarra for a while, she learns to live side by side with past memories, the present, whatever it may be, and the future, whatever it may bring.

Richard, played with wistful charm by Keith Carradine, is more businesslike in his approach to the locals. He starts up the copper mine and gives work to local men, until his health fails. ``Don't die,'' Sara whispers, and then reconsiders. ``At least, don't die now.''

Director Jack Gold tiptoes gracefully through the script's sometimes confusing changes in time and place, as it flashes back and forward in reality and imagination.

Perhaps the village is a bit too idyllic, and there are too many stereotypical natives wandering in and out of the camera's view. Perhaps the Americans are at first too superior in their attitudes toward local customs. But ``Stones for Ibarra'' manages eventually to reveal some of the evils of village life at the same time that it permits its Americans to grow in appreciation of local values.

All in all, it creates a lovely portrait of the overlapping cultures of Mexicans and Americans - in repose as well as in transition.

``Stones for Ibarra'' is a ``Hallmark Hall of Fame'' presentation, an almost certain guarantee of quality in television.

This delicate mystical drama is memorable enough to warrant a mound of Ibarra stones itself.

Arthur Unger is the Monitor's television critic.

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