BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
An enjoyable play about a miserable British family, “Rutherford & Son” represents yet another splendid rediscovery of a worthy vintage drama by Mint Theater Company.
Opening on Monday at the Mint’s snug midtown space, Githa Sowerby’s “Rutherford & Son” was a hit in London and New York in 1912 but rarely has been staged since. Back then, reviewers were amazed to note that this well-crafted drama was written by a woman, since ladies were greatly in the minority as playwrights.
Set in the north of England, Sowerby’s absorbing story regards an upper middle class family dominated by John Rutherford (Robert Hogan), a ruthless glass manufacturer whose tyranny affects everyone’s existence.
When one son (Eli James) invents a system to improve the factory’s productivity, an ugly power struggle ensues. A spinster daughter, Janet (Sara Surrey), furtively begins a romance with Rutherford’s right hand man (David Van Pelt) only to see it ruined by class distinctions and her father’s grim morality.
A meek daughter-in-law, Mary (Allison McLemore), another bullied son (James Patrick Nelson) and a crabby maiden aunt of a sister (Sandra Shipley) are others existing in the loveless Rutherford household.
The three-act drama’s most interesting dynamics involve the two younger women as the repressed Janet bitterly denounces her father to his frosty face and timid little Mary eventually bargains with Rutherford over the future of his infant grandson. The smoldering Surrey and pensive McLemore give particular satisfying performances as their characters stand up to the intimidating patriarch.
Surrey also is poignantly affecting in a later scene when a glowing Janet realizes with horror that her lower-class lover is too cowed by his master ever to marry her.
One might wish that Hogan presented a more physically imposing figure, but his flinty demeanor and sour expressions suffice to make Rutherford into a formidable presence.