Synopsis: Set in 1960s Greenwich Village, Hansberry paints a portrait of the couple's marriage, and their progressive circle of friends whose ideals do not always match reality. Will those ideals, which Sidney clings to, cost the couple their marriage?
Set in the early 1960s, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window follows The Brustein Family as they navigate modernity and reform, while simultaneously coming to terms with their white liberalism and how it has led to them becoming dismissive of their friends around them. Written originally by Lorraine Hansberry in 1964, l still feels relevant and fresh with regards to the subject material discussed. The quick wit and smart dialogue shine a mirror on the audience’s hypocrisies as they relate to the characters. Ms. Hansberry created highly flawed, yet deeply explored individuals.
Sidney Brustein, portrayed by Oscar Isaac, is the focal point throughout the show, grounding it as the stabilizing force through which all of the conflicts take place. Sidney means well in his pursuit of reformation in the city he loves but has yet to confront his internal prejudices. Oscar Isaac drives us through his interpretation begging the audience to cheer for this deeply problematic man in the hopes that he will do better, causing devastation each time he falls short. Iris Brustein, portrayed by Rachel Brosnahan, is his wife cast aside by society and struggling to make it as an actress in a city poised to see her fail. She suffers from bouts of anxiety and depression, made worse by her husband Sidney’s verbal abuse. Ms. Brosnahan was the true emotional tether for the show, she owns her insecurities and her flaws, not apologizing, but actively trying to work through what she’s experiencing. She commanded the stage and was able to transform into this role with ease.
The mastermind behind this recent revival is director Anne Kauffman. Ms. Kauffman makes sure to utilize all of the space provided and expertly handles the usage of multiple characters engaging in different activities all at the same time, a feat not always easy to accomplish. However, her underutilization of the second floor created by scenic designer dots left questions about if it was a needed element or not. Many times serving as a distraction rather than a support.
The biggest difficulty to overcome with Ms. Hansberry’s play is the fact that the show has 2 endings. About 2 hours and 15 minutes into the show, a natural ending of sorts occurs. Iris leaves Sidney after her repeated verbal abuse and Sidney is left to explore why this happened and how despite his liberalism, he was not infallible. However, what follows is a 30-minute sequence of events in an attempt to provide redemption for Sidney Brustein, who up to this moment has not earned one. By the second natural ending, I’m not sure if Sidney has earned the happy ending given to him.
Overall, this show despite being over 60 years old is just as relevant and powerful today as it was then. Despite some of the languages used being outdated, it still allows for a look into the impact of reformation and engorging oneself on their sense of self-pity.
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window earns itself a solid 4 out of 5 stars.
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