September 21, 2001

THERE are magic moments when a gifted, ready company takes up a lost but exciting play from the past.

So now the Mint Theater has come up with a 1912 play called “Rutherford & Son” by Githa Sowerby, a shy woman from the north of England who’d earlier written only children’s books.

It’s a marvelous play, alive with human passions and tyrannies.

It concerns the head of a glassworks factory in the north of England and his family.

This was the time of D.H. Lawrence, when the thwarted lives of northern, industrial, working-class England were finding a voice.

Count Sowerby as one of the sharpest. She has caught the intersection of the old Victorian urge for self-betterment and the newer (in part, female) drive to self-fulfillment.

All the action takes place in the family room perfectly evoked by the real wooden furniture and mock brick walls of designer Vicki Davis.

Richard Corley expertly directs to bring out the clash of character, working from seeming placidity to conflict; again and again we see people made to face reality, brought up against power. This was the golden age of patriarchy.

Old man Rutherford is beautifully gotten by Robert Hogan. We face exactly who this man is: a clever, domineering figure who has risen economically – and thinks he’s above the working class he sprung from – and who does find these qualities in his sons.

He has not even looked for them in his daughter Janet, for she is a woman. Janet, an embittered 36, has become his servant, taking off her father’s shoes and allowed no greater voice.

Janet is fully realized in the astonishing performance of Jurian Hughes.

Janet incorrectly thinks she has found escape in the solid, intelligent person of workman Martin.

David Van Pelt gets the man sympathetically and superbly.

The old man’s sons have been wrecked long ago: one, John, is a lazy, nervous weakling; the other, Richard, is an anxious, simpering cleric.

The awfulness of both is well gotten by Tom Story and Tom Ford.

By the end, the savage but human patriarch is left to sit in a corner and brood on the wreckage he – and history – have ultimately wrought.

This is a wonderful production of a wrenching play about the human wreckage history takes.