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The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window Review – Powerful and Relevant after Fifty Years

By Barbara Keer

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My husband and I took advantage of the opportunity to see Lorraine Hansberry’s rarely performed, last play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window at the Goodman Theatre and were rewarded with an unforgettable experience.  The issues this play addresses remain relevant although the play is fifty years old.

 

Grant James Varjas (David), Diane Davis (Iris), Chris Stack (Sidney Brustein) and Miriam Silverman (Mavis) in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

Powerful and deep, this play deals with issues of relationship, politics, survival, and questions whether individuals can change the system. It also hovers between being very talky and deeply emotional.  This is a remarkable work by a remarkable woman.

  

LorraineHansberry

 

AnneKauffman, director

It takes place in Greenwich Village, 1964 – a time of upheaval, a place of ideals and activism of every stripe. It is in Brustein’s apartment that all the action takes place.  As Sidney and Iris react to the world around them, we see the struggle between hope and reality.  The language is beautiful. 

 

It did strike me as I watched this that there were two majore changes from that time to this include attitudes toward gays and racial intermarriage. But the election depicted is very consistent with what we see around us.

  

Kristen Magee (Gloria), Chris Stack (Sidney Brustein) and Grant James Varjas (David) in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

The cast includes: Chris Stack appears in the role of Sidney Brustein. Diane Davis (Iris), Travis A. Knight (Alton), Kristen Magee (Gloria), Miriam Silverman (Mavis), Phillip Edward Van Lear (Max), Guy Van Swearingen (Wally O’Hara) and Grant James Varjas (David).

  

Travis Knight (Alton) and Phillip Edward Van Lear (Max) in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

This play, standing alone, has everything.  It is brilliantly written, acted and directed.  The set is outstanding, costumes perfect as are the sound effects. But for me, the context in which the original performance on Broadway took place cannot be left out. Chicago native Lorraine Hansberry made history as the first black woman to have a play on Broadway, A Raisin in the Sun, which was also a movie. The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window was the second of Hansbery’s plays to appear on Broadway.  It is her last play and she passed away at the young age of 34 shortly after the play opened.

  

Chris Stack (Sidney) and Diane Davis (Iris) in rehearsal for The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

 

Miriam Silverman (Mavis) and Diane Davis (Iris) in rehearsal for The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

To see this production is to experience theater at its finest.  I found the characters occupying my thinking long after I left the theater.  And the struggles presented surround us every day.  Through sadness, misunderstandings, and disillusionment, this play holds out hope for a better future.

 

Joi Gresham, Executive Director & Trustee, Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust noted that, "Lorraine was dying when she wrote this play. She was thinking about the end of her life, the things to which she was most committed, and what it meant to be fully engaged in the world. Those powerful questions are reaching us here and now in 2016.”

  

Travis Knight (Alton), Chris Stack (Sidney Brustein), Guy Van Swearingen (Wally O’Hara) and Phillip Edward Van Lear (Max) in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

The production is the centerpiece of The Lorraine Hansberry Celebration throughout the month of May curated by Resident Director Chuck Smith (events and details to be announced soon). The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Windowruns April 30 – June 5, 2016. Tickets ($25-$75, as well as special $10 student tickets), are on sale now; visit the Goodman Theatre website or call 312.443.3800 or purchase in person at the Box Office at 170 N. Dearborn. Goodman Theatre Women’s Board is the Major Production Sponsor, Edelman and ITW are Corporate Sponsor Partners, and WBEZ 91.5 is the Media Partner.

More about The Lorraine Hansberry Celebration

 Photo: Courtesy of Goodman Theatre

 

More about Lorraine Hansberry

Published on May 12, 2016

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