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A CurtainUp Review
Rutherford & Son

The Mint Reprises Rutherford & Son

 Rutherford & Son
Robert Hogan
(Photo: Richard Termine)
The Mint Theater's Rutherford & Son was one of the hardest reviews I ever wrote — not because Githa Sowerby's 1912 play was difficult to understand or write about, but because I saw it on the night before the awful morning after that changed our world forever. It was hard to concentrate on a work of fiction just as the real world went into a tailspin.

While our world hasn't exactly gone back to trouble and danger free times, it's gratifying to have a second look without a great traumatic event to distract from full concentration. And, as Rutherford & Son proved itself to be an absorbing drama by a little known playwright whose talent and insights are reminiscent of Ibsen and Galsworthy, so it is now. As always, the Mint has given this reprise of the memorable though mostly forgotten drama a fine production both in terms of cast and staging, with the director, two of the actors (including the title character) and most of the creative team are back on board.

Since that 2001 production at the Mint, information gleaned from a book entitled Looking for Gilda by Patricia Riley (whose fascinating feature is included in the Mint's as always informative program), has heightened the play's aura of authenticity. It seems that the story was inspired by Sowerby's own family history. The senior Rutherford of the play is apparently based on her father and the sons, Martin and John, are variations of her brothers.

This additional background adds relevance to the ever increasing problems of family businesses under assault from competition and owners being replaced by boards with little interest in a company's survival as envisioned by its founder. And yet, everything I said about the play more than a decade ago still applies. I'll therefore, make just a few comments about the current cast and then refer you to continue reading by clicking to The Original Review

Robert Hogan again plays the despicable tyrant, but leaves us with an understanding of what drives this man in the potent ending between him and his daughter-in-law Mary. Of the other cast members, the women, especially Allison McLemore as Mary and Sara Surrey as daughter Janet, fare better than the men. A scene between Mary and Janet towards the end of the play struck me as especially moving this time around. It underscored how this kind of lof loveless family life fosters a loss of affection for one's siblings as well as the cold, demanding father. Here we see that Mary, the outsider, is more capable of sympathy and warmth for her sister-in-law than either of her brothers.

Dale Soules is, like Hogan, on stage second time around as Mrs. Henderson the distraught mother of a young man fired for theft. Her performance is fine, but my complaint that the length of her rant stretches one's patience with the leisurely pacing more acceptable to audiences of that era. Finally, while Amy Stoller has once again seen to it that the accents ring true, this authenticity does tax the audience's ability to catch every word.

The rising cost of doing business isn't limited to factory owners like John Rutherford. Thus the Mint has had to adjust its ticket prices, though they still provide a satisfying and substantial theater going experience at top value.

Continue on to the original review by clicking here.

Current Production Notes
Rutherford & Son by Githa Sowerby Directed by Richard Corley
Cast: Cast: Robert Hogan (Rutherford), Dale Soules (Mrs. Henderson), David Van Pelt (Martin), Eli James (John), Allison McLemore (Mary), James Patrick Nelson (Richard), Sandra Shipley (Ann), Sara Surrey (Janet). Sets: Vicki R. Davis
Costumes: Charlotte Palmer Lane
Lighting: Nicole Pearce
Sound: Jane Shaw
Composer & Sound: Ellen Mandel
Props: JoshuaYocom
Wigs: Gerard Kelly
Dialects and Dramaturgy: Amy Stoller
Stage Manager:< Allison Deutsch
From 2/04/12; opening 2/27/12;; closing 4/08/12.
Tues., Wed., Thurs. 7pm; Friday & Saturday 8pm; Saturday & Sunday 2pm.
Running time 2 hours abd 45 nubytes including 2 intermissions
Mint Theater, 311 West 43rd Street
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at February 22nd press Preview

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Original Review

Have you ever heard of Moloch? No. . . Well, Moloch was a sort of God . . . some time ago, you know, before Dick [the middle Rutherford son, a clergyman] and his kind came along. They built his image with an ugly head ten times the size of a real head, with great wheels instead of legs, and set him up in the middle of a great dirty town. And they thought him a very important person indeed, and made sacrifices to him . . . human sacrifices . . . to keep him going, you know. Out of every family they set aside one child to be an offering to him when it was big enough, and at last it became a sort of honor to be dedicated in this way, so much so, that the victims came themselves gladly to be crushed out of life under the great wheels. That was Moloch.
--- John, comparing the Rutherford family enterprise to the "Moloch" that has made him a powerless, unfulfilled heir expected to sacrifice life's pleasures to insure the success of the monster known as Rutherford & Son, and his keeping that monster alive when his father is finally ready to relinquish his one-man rule.
In Autumn 1998 playwrights, actors, directors, journalists and other theatre professionals were asked to nominate ten English language, twentieth century plays that they considered "significant" Gita Sowerby's Rutherford & Son was the 1912 entry, the first by a woman to show up on the British NT2000 Platform's list of 100 plays representing the progress of drama through the twentieth century. Yet, despite the play's inclusion in this list and the praise accorded its pungent depiction of the unhappy lives seeded by the patriarchal system in England's industrial North, this first and best of Sowerby's four dramas is rarely produced. What's more, though it sparkles with pungent dialogue, I couldn't find a single citation in any of my numerous quotation books. Even Elaine Partnow, an actress who became a lexicographer to correct the imbalance of female representation in such reference volumes, overlooked Sowerby in her Quotable Woman.

And so, it has once again been left to Jonathan Bank and his invaluable Mint Theater Company to introduce New York theater goers to Rutherford & Son. He and director Richard Corley have done so with a handsomely staged, intelligently directed and well cast production.

Robert Hogan, who several seaSon back made a strong impact on me when he played Clarence Darrow in Never the Sinner (our review), reinforces that memory with his portrayal of the ruthless head of the glassmaking factory bearing hisname, a second generation family business that has elevated the working class Rutherfords to the middle rung of the social ladder. Hogan invests his tycoon with nuances that allow us see the forces that have made him an unloving and unlovable despot in his home as well as at his factory, especially in the final scene. There are even a few rare glimpses of humor lurking beneath the relentless determination to keep the imperiled glass works from falling victim to changing trends.

The play explores a familiar basic premise — the struggle between a rigid, powerful father and children yearning for the freedom to work and live their own way. The characters engaged in this struggle, the business ethics and survival issues that come into play give Rutherford & Son the same sort of relevance as the Mint's biggest "hit", Harley Granville-Barker's The Voysey Inheritance (our review).
Tom Story, Tom Ford and Jurian Hughes vividly render Rutherford's emotionally neglected offspring -- John, Richard and Janet -- as does Mikel Sarah Lambert as their crusty, resigned-to-the-Rutherford ways, Aunt Ann. John is the anointed but un-empowered heir. He was sent to Harrow to "become a gentleman", only to marry a working girl who has only been allowed into the family home since giving birth to another male Rutherford.

Viewed through their father's harsh eyes, Richard, a cleric, and Janet, a spinster who today would be described as a woman whose biological clock is ticking at double speed, both need never have been born. He has little respect for Richard's vocation as a cleric and feels Janet's only worth is as an unpaid domestic.

In the three days during which the story unfolds the struggle between the two generations is brought to a head by John's demand to be properly remunerated for a process he has invented and which his father's right-hand man Martin (David VanPelt) has helped him transform into a workable process. The elder Rutherford typically dismisses John's idea. When he realizes that it may be the something new that is desperately needed to keep the embattled factory profitable but John still refuses to reveal the formula, Rutherford takes advantage of Martin's loyalty to browbeat him into revealing the invention's details.

Martin's slave-like devotion does not prevent the man he has regarded as a father and savior from turning against him when he discovers that he has been his daughter Janet's secret lover. Ever protective of his hard-won entry into the middle class, Rutherford has no use for a servant who forgets his place (the same place from which the Rutherfords rose). Without a second thought he fires Martin and orders Janet out of the house. The fact that the Martin-Janice relationship is revealed to Rutherford by the gentle Richard underscores what may well be the greatest tragedy of this play: the fact that as a result of their loveless upbringing these brothers and their sisters have come not only to hate their father but have lost all sense of sibling loyalty or affection.

While the three Rutherford children all get their chance to let the old despot know their true feelings, it is the outsider —John's wife Mary — who knows exactly what she wants and strikes a compromise that may save her son from being crushed by the aging tyrant. Sioux Madden, a Mint regular, brings dignity and conviction to the soft-spoken but hardheaded mother protecting her cub. A scene with another mother, this one pleading for a second chance for her son who has been fired for petty theft, while well-acted by Dales Soules, goes on rather too long, stretching one's patience with the leisurely pace typical of the dramas of this era.

Vicki Davis, who also designed The Voysey Inheritance , has once again created a warm and apt setting that seems to expand the small stage. Charlotte Palmer-Lane's costumes are true to the period. The sound design by Ellen Mandel and cinematic lighting by Jeff Nellis further add to the strong production values.

Like all Mint productions this is a limited run and at under $20 a ticket, one of the best values in town.

Rutherford & Son
Written by Githa Sowerby
Directed by Richard Corley
Cast: Tom Ford, Robert Hogan, Mikel Sarah Lambert, Sioux Madden, Angela Reed, Dale Soules, Tom Story, and David Van Pelt.
Set Design: Vicki Davis
Costume Design: Charlotte Palmer-Lane
Lighting Design: Jeff Nellis
Sound Design: Ellen Mandel
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission
Mint Theater Company 311 W. 43rd St. (8th/9th Avenues), 5th floor. 315-0231 or Mint Web Site
Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7PM, Friday and Saturdays at 8 PM, with matinees Sunday at 3PM.
9/07-10/07 opening 9/12/01

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 9/10 performance

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