To disguise writer Githa Sowerby’s gender, the original 1912 program of Rutherford & Son credited it to K.G. Sowerby. Producers then felt that ticket buyers would be more receptive to the story of an overbearing glassworks manufacturer and his starved-for-approval adult children if they thought the author wore pants instead of petticoats. Whether women have achieved equality as dramatists is still hotly debated, but this sharp, sublime play absolutely merits revisiting.
Actually, this is the second go-round director Richard Corley and the Mint Theater Company have had with the British author’s involving (melo)drama. A 2001 revival featured three of eight current cast members, including the pleasingly understated Robert Hogan as the titular patriarch of a family that’s risen to prosperity in England’s industrial north. With business faltering, Rutherford is caught between saving his company and keeping his family. Elder son John (Eli James) has a cost-cutting procedure he offers to sell, not give, to his father; meanwhile, the personal affairs of unmarried daughter Janet (Sara Surrey) come under scrutiny.
When the focus is taut and the stakes high (largely in the first and third acts), play and production become a stimulating exploration of the casualties of capital existence. But a century after its premiere, the work is no longer groundbreaking, and could benefit from directorial pruning. Hogan’s Rutherford isn’t a consistently authoritative presence, but fertile support comes from Surrey, transforming terrifically from icy spinster to passionate lover. And Allison McLemore smoothly blends warmth and unflinching practicality as John’s wife, the mother of Rutherford’s grandson. Behind the birthright of the title lies palpable feminine force. –Diane Snyder