Rutherford and Son is Succession without the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Rutherford and Son is Succession without the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll 

Githa Sowerby's long-neglected drama has a strong cast at TimeLine, but drags at times.

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click to enlarge Rutherford and Son

Rutherford and Son

Lara Goetsch

For a mostly forgotten 1912 play, written by Githa Sowerby (but presented under a male-sounding pen name at the time), this family drama is surprisingly similar to HBO's Succession—minus the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. This business is glassworks, not a media empire, but its patriarch, Rutherford (Francis Guinan), is similarly cold, domineering, and cruel to his three children. The siblings—who often blend into the scenery because "the governor" has beat any shred of confidence or identity out of them—are also challenged to form relationships immune to their unhealthy connection with their father.

TimeLine's production, directed by Mechelle Moe, brings a very capable cast to an uneven story whose pace makes sustained engagement difficult. The slow and gloomy first act is set entirely in the dark, lifeless Rutherford drawing room. It does reveal subtle glimpses of the play's subversive social commentary, though. When Aunt Ann (Jeannie Affelder) chides Rutherford daughter Janet (Christina Gorman), "You always talk about he and him as if there's no one else in the world," Janet responds curtly, "There isn't." A later scene where Janet crouches on the floor removing her father's shoes, all while being called spoiled and ungrateful, is a disconcerting glimpse of how he views his daughter's place in the world.

Some redeeming moments come in the second act, when the siblings rebel against Aunt Ann's maxim that "Being happy will make no porridge." The most moving path toward self-determination comes from John's wife, Mary (Rochelle Therrien), who realizes that sometimes the greatest way to effect change is from the inside.  v

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