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By CLIFFORD LEE JOHNSON III
In 2001, when he first stepped onstage as John Rutherford, the flint-hearted protagonist of Githa Sowerby's 1912 drama Rutherford & Son, Robert Hogan thought, "This is my Lear." But the Mint Theater Company's production lasted only 23 performances, with one performance cancelled due to 9/11. Hogan was left hungering for a chance to take on the part again.
Luckily, Jonathan Bank, the Mint's Artistic Director, also wanted to revive the play, and now it's in the midst of a new production that runs through April 1. Hogan figured prominently in the plan. "When I thought about producing the play again, the first thing I did was to check on his availability," Bank says. "I would not have considered doing the play without him. He's a terrific actor perfectly matched to a great role." (Two other actors, David Van Pelt and Dale Soules, also return from the 2001 cast.)
Rutherford is obviously an attractive role. A glassworks owner who believes tyranny is necessary to keep himself and his family from sliding back into poverty, the character is roiled when his son refuses to reveal a new trade secret that could save his struggling business. The resulting explosions are set within the general turmoil of British class and gender politics of the time, and they do have the pained majesty of King Lear or similarly-themed plays like Ibsen's Enemy of the People.
Hogan admits that he had misgivings about returning to such a pivotal role in such a forceful play, wondering if he was too old before eventually deciding, "No, now I'm the right age."
The last eleven years have altered Hogan's perspective on the character. His own life experiences, for instance, have given him a sense of life's fragility and deepened his understanding of Rutherford's fractious relationship with his children. In addition, current economic upheavals added to his perception of the plights of Rutherford and his workers.
Hogan adds that he doesn't feel Rutherford is a pure villain. He sees him as having a sense of humor and a streak of vulnerability. "I didn't feel so about him the first time," he says. "I plowed through it more." Now he feels that Rutherford is also a victim of his time and station. "Passing on what he's gained is real important to him. He has no escape from that. He has no poetry. At the end of the play I sneak a little in, I hope. That's all he can handle."
Pictured L to R: Robert Hogan and James Patrick Nelson. Photo by Richard Termine.