Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.
Chris Stack and Diane Davis in Goodman Theatre’s production of THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN’S WINDOW by Lorraine Hansberry.
Review: THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN’S WINDOW at The Goodman Theatre
By Naima Dawson
Men with big dreams, women fighting for visibility and love at the same time, while ignorance and bigotry divide people; though this sounds like the ingredients to contemporary mayhem, its roots are found in a play set in the 1960s. THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN’S WINDOW is filled with scattered and rambled thoughts that make good sense to modern day viewers. With many similarities to “A Raisin in the Sun”, we are revisited by Lorraine Hansberry’s ability to deconstruct men and their obsession for million dollar dreams built on fate and pocket lint. On Broadway in October of 1964, Lorraine Hansberry’s THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN’S WINDOW only lasted for three months before Hansberry succumbed to cancer, and the play’s run came to an immediate end.
Resurrected under the direction of Obie Award winner Anne Kauffman, THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN’S WINDOW is a bold and successful attempt that sheds light on Lorraine Hansberry’s wit and possible obsession with human interaction. Hansberry appears to be very intrigued by her male characters and how they interact with the world. As a writer, she notably unpacks relationships marred by man’s selfish desires and life’s unexpected interruptions. This play sets to awaken and expose the misconceptions that plague and contribute to America’s obsession with perfection.
THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN’S WINDOW opens up to Kevin Depinet’s fascinating set design, with its well-replicated apartment structure that gives the appearance of being surrounded by other apartments—it’s quite commendable. Depinet delivers great attention to detail, especially to that of the apartment décor and infrastructure. The play orbits around the world of Sidney Brustein, played by Chris Stack, who completely commits to the development of this character. It is easy to believe that Stack is Brustein in the flesh. He does a masterful job in making the audience believe that we are privy to his world of relationship hiccups, secrets, and insanity, which unfolds in the midst of his living room. Sidney Brustein is in constant search of his next big dream, which will shed light on humanity and bring forth a type of a euphoria that will allow him to marvel in his success. However, life isn’t that grand for Brustein who resides with his wife Iris, played by Diane Davis. They live in the ever popular Greenwich Village, famed for being the artist, druggie, political activism depot of the bohemian culture during the 1960s. Sidney only can see life as far as his own desires. He bounces from one dream project to the next failed project, until he lands the opportunity to take over a local newspaper. His friend, Alton, who is a Black man of fair complexion, played by Travis Knight, suggests that he use his paper to help the campaign of Wally O’Hara. Sidney falls for the political machine he once demonized for not being honest, and uses his newspaper to promote O’Hara, played by Guy Van Swearingen. Sidney sets out on the campaign trail and is suddenly forced to deal with life under a new lens.
THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN’S WINDOW is life purging its imperfections, as humans fight to remain in balance with the universe. Sidney’s likability is often compromised by his sharp insults that work hard to devalue the dreams his wife Iris shares with him. Iris Brustein is what happens when one drowns in the expectations others have created for them. Diane Davis makes Iris as real as Hansberry has written her. She is a woman still tangled in her own self-discovery, who opted to marry because society made her believe that is what she was supposed to accomplish. Davis etches out every cycle a woman goes through when trying to search for one’s own identity and freedom.
Iris’s sisters are vital images of how society portrays women; Mavis, played by Miriam Silverman, whose candor and matter-of-fact sentiments often put much in perspective about loving men, having great tolerance, and adjusting to lies men tell in order to survive the instability of love often offers. Silverman delivers Mavis perfectly so, as if she walked right out one of those 1960s, good housewife magazines, while their attractive sister Gloria played by Kristen Magee, is a classy prostitute, who surrenders herself to the will of men, preying on her beauty and sex appeal. We don’t exactly know how she got to this space, but she is symbolic to the girl who is only visible when men are admiring her sexually.
Sidney and Iris’s world unravels as expectations are not realized but somehow in all the unraveling hope becomes plausible and no longer a fool’s paradise. There are so many important moving parts in this play that build inside Sidney Brustein’s living room.
Maybe if Lorraine Hansberry were still with us, she would have seen the need to edit down the 2 hour and 45-minute play, as there are parts that felt chatty and overdone. However, in its current state, Director Anne Kauffman has triumphantly created history on the Goodman stage. Every second is well worth the time spent.