Reviewed by Judd Hollander
There's a line in the 1939 film
"Mr. Smith Goes to
Rachel Brosnahan and Oscar Isaac in the Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window. Photo: Julieta Cervantes
Things change when his friend Wally
(Andy Grotelueschen) decides to challenge the local political machine in an
upcoming election and seeks
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window deftly combines multiple issues, all of which command the audience’s attention. On the surface the play looks at how the system is rigged against the so-called “little people.” Yet at the same time, Hansberry shows that no matter how many times one is unable to change situations they believe to be unjust, the important thing is to continue to challenge them. For only then can the possibility of change continue to exist.Oscar Isaac and Glenn Fitzgerald in The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window. Photo: Julieta Cervantes
Just as the ideas of giving up or fighting on are in conflict with one another, so too are other contradictory elements that appear throughout the work. Ones which deal with racism and how it’s perceived; the danger of holding onto an ideal too tightly; and the question of achieving success after decades of disdain for it. The latter conundrum involving David (Glenn Fitzgerald), a struggling playwright and the Brustein’s upstairs neighbor. Other issues explored include the question of memory, as seen through Iris and her sisters Mavis (Miriam Silverman) and Gloria (Gus Birney). All three of whom have attained a different social strata, and each of which have different recollections of their childhood. The play also asks what happens when you go too far to get what you want. As when Iris has a chance to revitalize her acting career, even though it may mean morally prostituting herself in the process.
Most important of all is the way the play takes care never to hit the audience over the head of with any of the issues it presented. Instead it allows them to unfold gradually during the course of the work and let the story speak for itself easily and naturally.
Isaac gives an excellent performance as
Brosnahan matches Isaac beat for beat as Iris. A woman who desperately wants to fulfill her own dreams, and also find that one place in the world where she truly belongs. Like Sidney, she must first realize her own limitations, something the play notes is not necessarily a bad thing, and then use that realization to move forward.
Silverman does very well as Mavis. At first glance, a rather narrow-minded and bigoted individual, but also a person capable of remarkable insight. Also pivotal to the story is Birney as Gloria as she portrays an utterly lost soul trapped in a dead-end life. A life from which she is determined to escape, at any cost.
The only major problem in the play deals with how the story is structured. While act one nicely sets up the various characters and situations, act two crams in too much exposition, one right on top of the other, which hampers the work’s overall flow. Additionally, the scenes with Gloria, while quite important to the play, go on a bit too long.Miriam Silverman in The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window: Photo: Julieta Cervantes
As topical today as when it was first written, “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” makes clear how not taking a stand on any issue is the most dangerous choice of all.
Featuring: Oscar Isaac (
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window
by Loraine Hansberry
Scenic Design: dots
Costume Design: Brenda Abbandandolo
Lighting Design: John Torres
Sound Design: Bray Poor
Hair & Wig Design: Andrew Diaz
Casting: Taylor Williams,
Script Supervisor: Joi Gresham
Dramatrug: Amanda Thomas
Movement Director: Sonya Tayeh
Voice Coach: Kate Wilson
Production Stage Manager: Ralph Stan Lee
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Presented at the
Tickets: 718-636-4100 or www.bam.org
Running time: three hours, one intermission