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Review - Rutherford & Son / The Best of Jim Caruso's Cast Party

Though the underrepresentation of contemporary female playwrights in American theatre remains a controversial issue, in a nondescript office building on 43rd Street, the Mint Theater Company has been continually boosting the visibility of women dramatists of the past.

In recent seasons they've reintroduced modern audiences to fascinating rarities by the likes of Teresa Deevy, Rachel Crothers, Maurine Dallas Watkins, Dawn Powell and Rose Franken. Now they make their second go at Githa Sowerby's 1912 domestic drama, Rutherford & Son; a play that was previously mounted by the Mint in early September of 2001 and, naturally, did not have a smooth run after the events of 9/11.

Premiering to enthusiastic notices at London's Royal Court Theatre, the playwright was billed as K.G. Sowerby in order to disguise her gender. And while theatre critic Adolph Klauber of the New York Times also praised her skill when it moved to Broadway, he also advised against encouraging playwrighting as an appropriate ambition for young ladies.

The play involves a pair of women who, in separate turns, are able to stand up to a tyrannical family patriarch when the men around them prove lacking. Aging entrepreneur John Rutherford (a understatedly grim Robert Hogan), has dedicated his life single-mindedly to building a successful glassworks business that he intended to pass along to a male heir, but considers his eldest, also named John (Eli James) - who dared to marry the working class Mary (Allison Mclemore) - not suitably dedicated to the task. Their newest friction is that John, Jr. claims to have found a new, improved formula for glass which he offers to sell to his father, who believes that it should automatically belong to him.

As for his other son, he calls Richard (James Patrick Nelson), a minister, of no use to him. His somber daughter Janet (Sara Surrey), unmarried and over 35, has been kept away from suitors all her life and lives like a servant in her father's home.

To say more about the plot would give away too much, but the tricky conclusion has all parties pretty much getting what they want, though not all in the way they intended.

Director Richard Corley's handsome production has a fine ensemble navigating through material that can move a bit slowly at times, but steadily heads for a satisfying comeuppance.

Set designer Vicki R. Davis places Victorian furnishings within glass walls etched with attractive depictions of wintry scenes outside; a reminder of the vulnerability of this household about to shatter.

Photos of Sara Surrey and Robert Hogan by Richard Termine.

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A typical New York nightclub might promote their open mic evenings by reminding patrons that they never know when they might wind up seeing the next Liza Minnelli. Over at Birdland, attendees at Jim Caruso's Monday night open mic known as Cast Party never know when they might wind up seeing the current Liza Minnelli... or Chita Rivera... or Christine Ebersole... or any number of Broadway, cabaret or jazz luminaries who are known to stop by on occasion to do a number.

Last week's second edition of The Best of Jim Caruso's Cast Party, produced at Town Hall by Scott Siegel as a benefit for The Actors Fund, had its share of star wattage - Linda Lavin and Marilyn Maye were among the guest performers - but the show's flippant personality is always defined by the chemistry between comic and vocalist Caruso and his right-hand man at piano, Billy Stritch.

Stritch, of course, is among the finest arranger/music director/pianist/vocalists working the cabarets. His low-key, genial cool slickly plays off Caruso's smarmy, wisecracking charm whether they're engaged in a breezy swing arrangement of "When Duke Was King" or trading quips between acts. ("If the room were smaller we'd be packed.")

Joining the duo were nightlife regulars Tom Hubbard on bass and Daniel Glass on drums, playing for a lineup that included Julia Murney, Terri Klausner, Liz Mikel, Jane Monheit and Janis Siegel. Laura Osnes was joined by composer Frank Wildhorn to play his and Leslie Bricusse's Jekyll & Hyde favorite "Someone Like You," and Stephanie J. Block was accompanied by composer Paul Loesel for his and Scott Burkell's hilarious first date patter song, "Invention."

Just like on Ed Sullivan's weekly program, there were fun novelty acts like rockstar juggler Marcus Monroe, who kept rings, balls, clubs and knives flying, and "acromedian" Rudi Macaggi, who began his act doing back flips, somersaults and splits in a padded suit while lip-syncing to Pavarotti.

Legit opera star Paulo Szot ended the evening with Rodgers and Hammerstein's "This Nearly Was Mine." No back flips were required.

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From This Author Ben Peltz