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Goodman Theatre The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window

5/11/2016, 3:36 p.m.
A rare theatrical and literary treasure is on display now through June 5 at Goodman Theatre Chicago. Lorraine Hansberry's seldom-produced ...

A rare theatrical and literary treasure is on display now through June 5 at

Goodman Theatre Chicago. Lorraine Hansberry's seldom-produced final tome,

The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, is on stage in a stellar production

directed by Obie Award winning and Goodman veteran Anne Kauffman

(Smokefall, 2014/15 and 2013/14 seasons).

With a superb cast led by Off Broadway's Chris Stack as the idealistic

title character, Sidney Brustein, and his wife, struggling actress Iris,

played by Diane Davis, in her Goodman debut, this play affirms Hansberry

as one of the most important theatrical voices of her time.

Hansberry was already battling the pancreatic cancer that would end her

life when the play debuted on Broadway in 1964 to mixed reviews. It ceased

production shortly after her death in 1965 at the tender age of 34, after

playing just over a hundred performances.

A product of Englewood High School and Chicago's Washington Park

neighborhood on the South Side, Hansberry is best known for her Obie Award

winning play A Raisin in the Sun, which mirrored the story of her own

family's effort to move into an all-white neighborhood in racially

segregated 1950s Chicago.

"Brustein" is a very different vehicle altogether. It tells the story of

an idealistic, white radical writer, Sidney Brustein, and his struggles to

launch a left-wing community newspaper, and his wife, Iris, a waitress,

trying desperately to break into acting. The backdrop is the Bohemian West

Village of 1960s New York where Signey's walk up flat is ground zero for

left wing thought and a freewheeling, booze-tinged lifestyle. It is also

the unofficial campaign headquarters to the political campaign of a good

friend, posing as a reform candidate in a local election. Thus, the source

of the play's title, a sign in Sidney's apartment window that reads "Vote

Reform."

Political signs and slogans were the twitter and social media of 1960s

America. The sign in Sidney Brustein's window is both a call to action, and

the flashpoint for the social and personal devolution that is witnessed

onstage as Sidney, Iris and their mélange of characters battle the

individual and societal demons of their time.

Hansberry's wide-ranging, unwieldy script tackles a variety of hot button

issues that remain so, even more than a half-century later; homosexuality,

feminism and the social and sexual objectification of women, left wing

radicalism versus the urge to self-out for personal and political gain.

All of this unreels in a barrage of words, both singular and in ensemble,

spanning nearly three hours, while Sidney and Iris struggle to hold

together the fraying fabric of their marriage. It's all an uphill, futile

battle, but somehow there's hope and a glimmer of salvation, as seen from

the lofty perch at the top of the rickety fire escape that leads to the

rooftop above Sidney's apartment in a set masterfully crafted by Goodman

veteran Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet (Feathers and Teeth, Smokefall,

Brigadoon, The Iceman Cometh).

"Sign" is a talkfest, but there are some real verbal gems to be found among