If George Clooney were to make a movie in which all he did was read the manuals to household appliances, it’s a fair bet that people would buy tickets to watch.
That same sort of brand loyalty works with theaters, particularly off-Broadway houses. The Mint Theater Company, upstairs in an office building, just down the street from the Broadway theaters, has repeatedly proven itself to pick interesting, forgotten plays and bring them to life.
“Rutherford & Son” opening Monday (Feb. 27) is a little-known play that had its debut Feb. 12, 1912. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stand the test of time.
At two hours and forty minutes, with two intermissions, the drama is very long. It drags enough that in my row alone, I saw three people nodding off. And patrons of the Mint are serious theatergoers.
The play picks up after the slow first act. Fine points are made while it relentlessly hammers how miserly the human spirit can be. There’s a nice twist at the end, but “Rutherford & Son” requires more of a commitment than many would be willing to give.
The play unfolds in a Victorian living room in the late 19th century. The living room, as well as everything in the fictional town of Grantley, in England’s industrial north, belongs to John Rutherford (Robert Hogan, “Too Big to Fail” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) patriarch and owner of the town’s main industry, Rutherford Glassworks. He inherited the factory from his father and intends to pass it on to his son, John (Eli James, “Temporal Powers” “Lights Out”).
Rutherford’s three children are disappointments to him. He considers John weak and having made a bad marriage to Mary (Allison McLemore, “The Madras House”). John, the son, has devised a new process for the factory and wants his father to pay for his invention. Rutherford Sr., finds that galling and won’t do it.
The other son, Richard, (James Patrick Nelson, “The Three Sisters”) is a bumbling pastor, whose heart is in the right place but a lifetime of being bullied by his father has left him spineless. In fact, the most confident one of the bunch, but who would never be considered for any substantial responsibility, is the daughter, Janet, (Sara Surrey, “Staten Island” “Law & Order”). The sole reason she can’t be considered as anything more than a servant is because she is a woman.
Rutherford pretty much sees everyone a servant. One loyal worker, Martin, (David Van Pelt) would be the natural successor, but because he is not a blood relation, Rutherford doesn’t consider him. In Rutherford’s defense, he has given some second chances, and carries a huge burden. He simply refuses to allow anyone to take what he considers undue advantage.
He upholds the strict and constricting rules of his society; loosening them could deprive him of power. Women are expected to do needlework and whatever men tell them. Men are expected to make money, and do whatever it was that their fathers did. It’s pretty much a dreary life of this is the way it was and always will be.
It’s a loveless, humorless home and as events unfold — hidden loves, missing money, and dashed dreams — the future, for most of them, promises to remain grim. Ultimately you can’t help but have pity for each of them but that’s not quite enough to endorse the play.