What's on TV

SHOWS FOR MAY 24-30

Saturday 05/24

Our Town (Showtime, 8-10 p.m.): Showtime and PBS's "Masterpiece Theatre" join up to bring us the Westport Country Playhouse's exciting production of Thornton Wilder's all-American gem - one of the few community-theater productions to make it to Broadway. Paul Newman, who also directs, is up for a Tony nomination for his role as the Stage Manager. Mr. Newman ignites a first-rate cast to bring us the genuine thrill behind this poignant tragicomedy. The story is modest enough - it tells about two families in a small New Hampshire town living ordinary lives at the turn of the 20th century. Young Emily Webb marries the boy next door, but later dies in childbirth. The play remains an exquisite reminder to appreciate all that is good on Earth and to expect all that is good after our time here. Beautifully played, it still loses something in the raw translation (videotaping) of play to small screen. The show will repeat in the fall on "Masterpiece Theatre." TV-PG

SUNDAY 05/25

My House in Umbria (HBO, 9-11 p.m., repeated through the month): Dame Maggie Smith plays an outrageous aging author of romance novels who is caught in a terrorist explosion on a train in Italy. Only four passengers survive, and all cling to the author, who takes them into her home. Among them is a little girl whose American uncle may not be the best care-taker of a troubled child. It is up to the author to save the child from the "kindness" of relatives. Though there are holes in the plot, there are no holes in the excellent performances by Smith, Chris Cooper, and Giancarlo Giannini. It's bound to haunt the viewer with its deepest meaning about the making of a family of strangers. TV-PG

MONDAY 05/26

Willie Nelson and Friends: Live and Kickin' (USA, 9-10 p.m.): The country legend is surrounded by some rousing talent in this fine birthday celebration. Norah Jones, Lyle Lovett, Paul Simon, and Ray Charles join Willie in a delightful songfest that might lift anybody's spirits.

Russia: Land of the Tsars (History Channel, 9-11 p.m., continuing May 27): Possibly the best work on TV this week is this lavish and beautifully written documentary about the sudden enslavement of a country's entire lower class by the iron hand of the tsars. As gripping as it is beautiful, the history manages to put all of Russian history into perspective.

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