RUTHERFORD AND SON by Githa Sowerby, directed by Jackie Maxwell, with Michael Ball, Mike Shara, Dylan Trowbridge, Kelli Fox, Donna Belleville, Mary Haney, Peter Krantz and Nicole Underhay. Presented by the Shaw Festival at the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs in rep to October 9. $28-$77. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
It's great to discover a new play from the past. Over the past several decades, the Shaw Festival 's been introducing audiences to forgotten British plays, and with the socially conscious 1912 play Rutherford And Son , the company's come up with a winner.
Githa Sowerby 's examination of class and gender tension is set in a Yorkshire mercantile family. Glassworks manufacturer John Rutherford ( Michael Ball ) rules his cowed family - two sons and a daughter, daughter-in-law and sister (an appropriately pinched Mary Haney ) - with a tyrannical hand, the same one he uses on his factory workers, including his assistant, Martin (a fine, understated Peter Krantz ). Over the course of three days, several of Rutherford's familial and hired underlings rebel, with varying degrees of success, against his rigid ways.
Artistic director Jackie Maxwell polishes up this unknown gem - it's possibly her best directing work at the festival so far - and brings out all the underlying emotional tension, melodrama and grim comedy of the gripping script.
The production flows at times with the deliberately slow, low-key motion of everyday life, but there's often a bite in a character's tone, or a measured effect in a speech.
The Shaw's cast couldn't be better, starting with ramrod-straight Ball as the glowering patriarch who shares power with no one, Mike Shara as one son, a spineless cleric, and Dylan Trowbridge as the other, a dreamy inventor who believes he can buy his freedom.
Their various confrontations are wonderfully nuanced, as is the showdown between the browbeaten daughter ( Kelli Fox , never a disappointment in any show) and the father who feels betrayed when his offspring seek lives of their own.
That episode builds with such scathing, incendiary anger that I'm almost surprised the theatre doesn't catch fire.