University of Washington School of Drama Presents RUTHERFORD AND SON
The University of Washington School of Drama will present Githa Sowerby's 1912 drama, Rutherford and Son, January 23 - February 3, 2019. Despite being a smash hit when it premiered in London in 1912, Sowerby's tale of a tyrannical patriarch who loses his grip on his children has rarely been produced in the U.S.
Set in Northern England at the end of the 19th century, Rutherford and Son tells the story of John Rutherford (played by guest artist Brace Evans) who has built a glassmaking business with the intent of passing it on to his son, John. But the younger John-and, indeed, all of Rutherford's children, who have been raised in a house "without a scrap of love in it,"-have their own plans. As each child pursues their own path to freedom, either via clandestine romance or back channel business deals, Rutherford is gradually dismantled by his own self-righteous arrogance. His daughter-in-law, Mary, a working-class girl whom Rutherford has treated with disdain, finally emerges as the only figure capable of bargaining the patriarch into submission.
UW Drama's production is the master's thesis for third-year MFA directing student Cody Holliday Haefner. The show is designed by students in UW Drama's MFA design program, and performed by a cast comprised of members of the PATP (Professional Actor and Training Program-MFA, Acting) and two guest artists.
In this production, the Rutherford family is played by African-American actors. Explaining this choice, Haefner says, "I didn't want to erase race in a piece about class. That's just not how the world works. In the U.K. at the time this play was written, class was very rigid, whereas, here in the U.S., class is much more fluid, but only if you have the privilege of whiteness. So, here we have a Black family that has built the business and done everything 'right,' but they are blocked by the other upper class people from accessing that status."
Haefner selected the play in part because he knew he needed to tackle realism before finishing his MFA. "I was, in large part, resisting directing realism. Valerie Curtis-Newton [Head of Directing] encouraged me to explore that feeling, and suggested that I might be operating from a place of fear. And I thought, 'Okay, Val, you're probably right.'" Haefner remembered reading a play as an undergraduate at Columbia University that had stuck with him. "I only read it," he says, "because I had a professor who was from northern England." That play was Rutherford and Son, and when Haefner re-read it, he was inspired: "I thought, this play is incredible. This play is amazing."
In London in 1912, Rutherford and Son, a new play by an unknown playwright, "K.G. Sowerby," burst onto the scene, shattering box office records and drawing lofty accolades from critics, who called it the best play to premiere on the west end in 10 years and compared the author to theatrical titans like Ibsen. When it was revealed that the play's author was a woman named Githa Sowerby, critics were baffled. Unable to retract their earlier, glowing reviews, they begin to "incredulously interview her," in the words of Sowerby biographer Patricia Riley.
When the play transferred to New York, the New York Times critic Adolph Klauber profiled Sowerby, writing, "Tall, fair, with a pretty face and a very pleasant voice, you might suspect her of eating chocolates and talking nonsense in the shade, but you would never dream that she could be the author of a play with all the grim force of a Pinero in the story and the sureness of a Galsworthy in the characterization," adding, "Even with Miss Sowerby as a shining example, we do not feel that the playwriting instinct in young ladies calls for immediate or emphatic encouragement."
Following its initial 133-performance run at the Vaudeville Theatre in London (which itself followed a four matinee try-out at the Royal Court) and a 63-performance run at the Little Theatre in New York, Rutherford and Son was almost entirely forgotten until 1980, when feminist theatre company Mrs. Worthington's Daughters produced it at the Royal Court Upstairs in London. In 1998, Rutherford and Son was included in the list of the top one hundred plays of the twentieth century by the Royal National Theatre, which produced the play in 1994. In 2001, New York's Mint Theater Company, which, according to its website, is dedicated to "worthwhile plays from the past that have been lost or forgotten," produced the play in a production so successful they chose to revive it in 2012.
Githa Sowerby (1876 - 1970) was born into the Sowerby glassmaking dynasty in Gateshead, England. Before turning to drama, Sowerby published 11 children's books, mostly in verse, all of which were illustrated by her sister, Millicent Sowerby. In 1910, she published a compendium of short plays called Little Plays for Little People. Rutherford and Son was Sowerby's first play for adults. It was published in 1912, the same year that it enjoyed highly successful runs in London and New York.
Sowerby's other plays are Before Breakfast (1913), a comedic skewering of a hypocritical socialist who is dismayed when he learns that his fiancé is the sister of his maid, A Man and Some Women (1914), a critic of women's economic dependence on men, Sheila (1917), a realistic play exploring class barriers through the story of a romance between a 17-year-old typist and her 40-year-old boss, The Stepmother (1924), which the London newspaper The Era posited may have been a feminist response to Strindberg's The Father, and which tells the story of a woman who holds her new husband's family together despite his duplicitousness and irresponsibility, The Policeman's Whistle (1934), her sole full-length play for children, and Direct Action (around 1937-38), an examination of modern sexual mores which was discovered by Sowerby's biographer Patricia Riley in a hatbox in the apartment of Sowerby's daughter, Joan. Direct Action was never produced nor published.
A biography, Looking for Githa, was written by historian Patricia Riley and published in 2009. Sowerby died in London in 1970 at the age of 93. There were no obituaries.
Tickets can be purchased at drama.uw.edu or through the ArtsUW Ticket Office: 206-543-4880, email@example.com.