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THEATER REVIEW: The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2016-05-18

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Playwright: Lorraine Hansberry

At: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.

Tickets: 773-443-3800;

GoodmanTheatre.org; $20-$75

Runs through: June 5

The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window is not the catchiest title and neither is this production of the last work of Chicago playwright Lorraine Hansberry. The drama is piled on high with a dash of humor.

There are some meaty moments, though, and when it cooks it really does. The problem is everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into the mix. The show covers hot topics of racism, homophobia, politics, alcoholism, prostitution, abuse, infidelity, women's rights, police brutality and family dynamics that don't all gel together. Even the set is overdone with a huge scaffolding placed above the bohemian apartment in the Albert Theatre.

The story follows a writer named Sidney, his wife, her sisters and their friends set in Greenwich Village in 1964.

Chris Stack hits all the right notes in his portrayal of Sidney Brustein and Diane Davis as Iris and Miriam Silverman as Mavis are both especially good as sisters. It is important to note that while the material is set in the 1960s, so many issues are ones society wrestles with today. The main actors give the words power and make them feel real.

Some secondary characters don't fare as well. By the curtain call, characters like Max are long-forgotten and should have been cut. Grant James Varias plays the gay neighbor David, who's so unlikable and stoic that it is a wonder Sid and Iris even talk to him. Kristen Magee, as Gloria, is supposed to be the wounded bird in the family but doesn't show enough of a broken wing for the audience to sympathize with her situation.

When the show originally debuted the reviews were mixed, so why not improve it? Director Anne Kauffman most likely wants to preserve the author of A Raisin in the Sun's final work but if some of the fat was trimmed this could be a recipe for a perfect production. It runs three hours with intermission so the play needs some cuts, even the title could be shortened to just Sidney's Sign.

What should be applauded is the Goodman celebrating Hansberry's life by throwing various events around Chicago in May, including a bus tour of the neighborhoods she grew up in and an awards ceremony involving five of her contemporaries. The first Black woman to write a play performed on Broadway should be remembered, and the Goodman has opened the "Window" to her legacy—even if the decision to run this production comes off as questionable.


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