By the time of her death at age thirty-four, Lorraine Hansberry had created two electrifying masterpieces of the American theater. With A Raisin in the Sun she gave this country its most movingly authentic portrayal of black family life in the inner city. Barely five years later, with The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, Hansberry gave us an unforgettable portrait of a man struggling wit his individual fate in an age of racial and social injustice. These two plays remain milestones in the American theater, remarkable not only for their historical value but for their continual ability to engage the imagination and heart. With an Introduction by Robert Nemiroff.
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lorraine hansberry was one of the greatest writers of all time and she is not nearly as celebrated enough. every single one of these characters is multifaceted and gray and they’re all right in some ways but they are deeply mistaken in others and god they’re just human. and she captures that in a way no one else possibly could. because it’s apparent even in her writing that she loved people and people fascinated her. and it is one of the worst tragedies that she died fifty years before her time. because she tackles timeless ideals and questions and makes them understandable and relatable and i’m crying because everything she wrote was beautiful and meaningful and complicated and wonderful just like the human existence.
Appealing to the Intellect
The PBS American Masters documentary, of the legendary playwright and civil rights activist, Lorraine Hansberry, provided a longing to read THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN’S WINDOW. Miss Hansberry, an intellect, a precocious talent for writing ahead of her years, captures, in a non-linear time capsule, Greenwich Village bohemia of artists and activists driven by ideals.
I don’t recall watching a production of this play, but I couldn’t help thinking that I saw the opening scene in an acting class in the distant past or that it was a related memory of living on Bleecker Street during my youth, evocative of the longing of a commitment to ideals that are ethereal.
The plot centers on the protagonist, Sidney Brustein, an intellectual, who is searching for his livelihood and winds up a publisher of a local newspaper that his left-wing buddies, Wally and Alton, push a political opinion for an election. Consequently, Sidney hangs a sign of reform on his window. Meanwhile, his wife, Iris, is a struggling actress, socially unconventional, befriends David, a gay playwright. However, she wants Sidney to be practical. Mavis, Iris’s sister, is a matchmaker type and shoves her traditional beliefs onto them. Their personalities clash in the dialogue, which is funny and meaty. The entrance of the prostitute Gloria, who is Iris and Mavis’s other sister pivots into an over-the-top turn of events that is left unresolved. Satisfyingly gripping that the climax is left up to the imagination.
When the play opened in 1964 on Broadway Lorraine Hansberry at age 34 was suffering from pancreatic cancer and facing her mortality, while there were political turbulence and social unrest from the civil rights, women rights and gay rights movements. Her work conveyed through the characters is infused with conflict and meaning born from a personal pain that initiates a yearning to transform, and to care about your life when indifference shows up. The message revealed is to care, and a committed life is worth fighting for.