Before The Ewings – those wealthy, powerful and greedy Dallas oil and cattle barons; before The Carringtons – that wealthy, powerful and greedy Denver dynasty came The Rutherfords – specifically John Rutherford owner of a glass factory – just as wealthy, powerful and greedy from Northern England.
Created by playwright Githa Sowerby in 1912 the Rutherford family is not as glamorous but just as devious and dysfunctional. Focusing on power and money and tyranny, with “Geordie” vocabulary and accents to match.
In her three act vintage soap opera that moves along at a snails pace in the cold living room of John Rutherford (Robert Hogan) the patriarch of the family who rules with an iron fist, we meet the cast of characters that seem to be quite familiar to our playwright as she grew up in a family that had a similar business – a glassworks factory. Here’s hoping she had a vivid imagination and was not merely recording what she saw and heard at home.
John Jr. (a petulant Eli James) has discovered a new way to cut costs and save the family business – he has shared his “recipe” with Martin (David Van Pelt) the trusted and loyal “worker/slave” of daddy Rutherford. Jr. hopes to become rich and free of his father by selling his idea to him “for a price”, wanting to escape with his wife Mary (Allison McLemore) and their young offstage son who winds up as a bargaining chip – but I’m getting far ahead of myself. Richard (James Patrick Nelson) – the other son is of the religious cloth and quite conflicted about taking a new job while aiding his local parishioners – a Mrs. Henderson (Dale Soules) in particular. Janet (Sara Surrey) is the spinster sister who leads a terribly lonely life and is in love with Martin. Rounding out this ensemble is Aunt Ann (Sandra Shipley) irritable and negative in the extreme.
The Mint Theater is giving Ms. Sowerby a return engagement production of “Rutherford & Son” as its original production of the play was cut short by the tragic events of 9/11.
The Mint, known and applauded for unearthing theatrical artifacts has remounted her saga with a set by Vicki R. Davis that bridges the modern and the old with its antique furniture and reflective transparent glass-like panels of the cold and barren landscape outside.
But it’s indoors where all the angst and anger explodes – sometimes to operatic proportions as encouraged by director Richard Corley who has terrific credentials but seems to have not found a way to make this static and sometimes preachy piece of writing more compelling.
In a final tableau John Rutherford sits alone at the dining table after some brutal negotiations have taken place. As the lights fade he has a look of a person suffering from acid reflux – a feeling that some may share after digesting “Rutherford & Son”.
Through April 8th. www.minttheater.org 866 811 4111 Photo:Richard Termine
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