"The Oldest Living Graduate" by Preston Jones, directed by Judd White for the Springfield Community Theatre, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, 6320 Hanover Ave., Springfield, Feb. 27 and 28, March 6 and 7 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $4.50 for adults, $3 for students and senior citizens. Reservations recommended; call 451-5539.

If you usually approach community theater with a light heart and lowered expectations, leave your prejudices behind you and come out to Springfield. The Springfield Community Theatre is putting on "The Oldest Living Graduate," part of Preston Jones' trilogy about the dried-up folks in the dried-up Texas town of Bradleyville.

Lionel C. Holm, as the "graduate," brings more than 50 years of experience in amateur dramatics to this endearing crab of a character, and it shows.

Holm's performance is the type that critics call compelling, absorbing, arresting and commanding, and it is all of these and more -- it is believable.

This, one would think, is the colonel of Preston memory of love.

The play involves a conflict between Holm's character -- Col. Jefferson C. Kinkaid, a World War I veteran who spends his long days developing memories -- and his second son Floyd Kinkaid.

Their bone of contention is a piece of land wanted by a developer for "rich and exclusive" vacation homes, and maintained by the father as a shrine to his youth. The audience -- but not the son -- is told that this land once housed the colonel's first sweetheart, and he remains doggedly determined to hold on to it.

Floyd has had a lifetime of learning to outmaneuver his father, and what follows is a bit of manipulation that would be praised by a Los Angeles highway planner. He discovers his father has achieved the dubious status of being the oldest living graduate of the Mirabeau B. Lamarr Military Academy.

With an eye ever-glued to his pocketbook, he invites the school and their instant old-boys-network down to Bradleyville to honor his father, a move he believes will soften his daddy's determination to hold on to the land.

The lynchpin is loosed with the arrival of the academy's commandant, whose presence triggers the colonel's memory of what war is really all about -- death. The old man delivers a poignant anti-war tirade that Jane Fonda should memorize, thereby annulling any desire the commandant may have had to honor him.

The tightly wired Floyd comes unglued at this point, haranguing his father for relating only to his memories, and not to Floyd. The colonel tunes in long enough to notice that his son is in pain, and goes through the kind of reaction you get when you discover your middle-aged son is a stranger: He has a stroke.

What follows is a low-key deathbed scene in which the colonel finally explains what he hoped to enshrine in his land, and admits the hopelessness of nailing memories down to soil. "You take that land, Floyd," he says, almost offhandedly, "the things I remember are all gone now."

The play is a Texas triumph, written with a wit as sharp and thorny as mesquite.

Ellen Mulroney as Floyd's wife Maureen, is an authentically middle-aged alcoholic concentrating on being an authentically Texas middle-aged alcoholic -- a concentration that is mildly distracting, and should probably fade with another few performances.

The other female lead -- Andrea Hatfield as Martha Ann Sickenger, wife of one of Floyd's slimy business partners -- is one of those character parts that can be overdone easily. Hatfield is remarkably restrained, creating a memorable testament to fluff.

Her drawl rings true to form, but that of the uptight Floyd (Ed Lockwood) tends to drift from West Texan into something that sounds like a Washington civil servant facing a Stockman budget cut.

The drifting drawl is a quibble, though; Lockwood does an admirable job with a character familiar to the Washington real estate scene -- the sort of fellow who hopes to "find himself" in a land scheme, a dealer's wheeler who is barely loved, and barely lovable.