The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

Lorraine Hansberry’s final play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, is enjoying a Broadway run at the James Earl Jones Theatre in a thought provoking production with equal measures of comedy and pathos in the rhythmic writing.

Tackling a wide range of issues along with the intricacies of interpersonal relationships, a cadre of friends and family navigate living on the cusp of seismic cultural, societal and economic changes occurring in mid-1960’s America. The period piece is an eye-opening and educational look at life and the everyday friction between men/women, white/black, Jew/Gentile, bohemian/bourgeois, party line/political reform and straight/gay at the time and makes the piece a rich stew for satire.

Fans of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will be thrilled to see Rachel Brosnahan in the lead role of Iris, wife and aspirational actress to her progressive leftie husband Sidney (played by a boisterous and energetic Oscar Isaac) who has just purchased a small weekly newspaper after failing with a non-profit nightclub. Swirling around them is the election of a neighborhood politician and friend, an upstairs playwright who finally gets his play produced, Iris’s sister Mavis who lives a staid existence with her businessman husband, her other sister surviving as a prostitute and additional characters that populate the world of the play.

Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

The cast is excellent and each draws a fully fleshed and nuanced character. Of special note is Miriam Silverman’s performance as Mavis. A housewife who maintains her societal place (“I take care of the boys, I shop and I think about my sisters”) belies a woman whose still waters run deep and with a greater understanding of the realities of her existence and the world around her and who knows she can’t really break out of her confined circumstances.

The nostalgic set beautifully evokes a Greenwich Village walkup apartment complete with full fire escape on the side and a roof from where some of the action takes place.

Ms. Hansberry’s deft writing is the real star of the show however; with impassioned and urgent dialogue, zinging one-liners, joyous moments of relief and quiet revelations, the writing is point driven and potent without being bombastic or histrionic. Because of this, the piece is fresh, engaging and interesting despite its age.

And that’s why her plays are considered classics of the American theatre.

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window closes on July 2.