Review Roundup: Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan Star In THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN'S WINDOW at BAM

The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window is directed by Obie Award winner Anne Kauffman at the BAM Harvey Theater.

By: Feb. 27, 2023
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The Brooklyn Academy of Music presents the first major New York revival of Lorraine Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, directed by Obie Award winner Anne Kauffman at the BAM Harvey Theater. The production officially opened on February 23, 2023. Read reviews for the production!

Oscar Isaac (Moon Night, Scenes from a Marriage) and Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Dead for a Dollar) star in Hansberry's sweeping drama of identity, idealism, and love.

The A Raisin in the Sun playwright invites us into Greenwich Village in the 60s, crafting a razor-sharp portrait of a diverse group of friends whose loudly proclaimed progressive dreams can't quite match up with reality. At the center are Sidney and Iris Brustein, fighting to see if their marriage-with all its crackling wit, passion, and petty cruelty-will be the final sacrifice to Sidney's ideals. Discover the "astonishing force"(The Chicago Tribune) of this stunning drama from one of America's greatest playwrights when it finally returns to New York.

Following Hansberry's meteoric debut with A Raisin in the Sun (1959), The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window debuted on Broadway in 1964 just before Ms. Hanberry's death at the age of 34. Since then, her play has never been produced on a major New York stage. Director Anne Kauffman presented an acclaimed revival in Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 2016.

Jesse Green, The New York Times: The approach is successful at first. Brosnahan hits all the right notes as Iris, a would-be actress whose quasi-mystical Appalachian upbringing constitutes an important part of the Brustein marriage's erotics. (Sidney calls Iris, who is Greek, Irish and Cherokee, his "mountain girl.") Brosnahan is also compelling when Iris's autonomous ambitions emerge, and the domestic comedy (along with the lighting by John Torres) turns stranger. But as the contrasting energies that joined the Brusteins - Jew and gentile, sophisticate and bumpkin - begin to go haywire, Isaac, otherwise deft and charming, cannot find a way to merge Sidney's laissez-faire liberalism with his period-typical yet vile sexism.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Hansberry died far too young at 34 just months after "Sidney Brustein" premiered on Broadway. It features a majority-white character set and cast, a bunch of allegedly cool cats in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s; and its concern is to show the depth and also frail pieties and concerted whining of the white '60s liberal. It is both merciful and merciless in this respect, and it is beautifully written as a piece of text. But it is a grating snooze of a play; it ponders, meanders, stalls, and ultimately gets stuck in its own plot-free thicket of words. Its characters circle each other, and its arguments do the same. Dramatically, it is rambling and unsatisfying.

Matt Windman, AMNY: Hansberry clearly had a lot to say about the artists that she worked alongside and their personal shortcomings, but it unfortunately did not come together into a coherent, critical-minded play but rather a plodding diatribe full of one-dimensional characters and melodramatic plot twists. Still, there is no denying that the cast is excellent. Isaac and Brosnahan exert a physical intensity and sexual friskiness that propels much of the first half of the play. The production also has an unusually elaborate scenic design for a BAM production, including a shoebox-like apartment that is suspended above the stage floor plus a fire escape and upper rooftop level.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: No, "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" is not some amazing rediscovered masterpiece. But yes, Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan make it worth seeing, especially for its promising but deeply flawed first act.

Charles Isherwood, The Wall Street Journal: Ms. Brosnahan is, in fact, absolutely terrific as Iris, who can't quite bring herself to call it quits with Sidney but begins to feel the gravitational pull of Mavis's more established and comparatively plush life-with a possible man among her motives. What Hansberry sensitively captures, through most of the characters, is that troubling period in many people's lives when the ideals of youth begin to seem chimerical, and getting a firm foothold on more practical kinds of success suddenly seems alluring.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: Director Anne Kauffman, who also staged Sidney Brustein in 2016 at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, does the absolute most possible with the script-by all accounts not quite finished by Hansberry, who succumbed to cancer at 34 shortly after the Broadway opening. And Isaac and Brosnahan-two insanely charismatic actors who make far-too-infrequent stage appearances-can't be topped, especially considering the show's crazy tonal shifts: The first act is essentially a potluck, and the second is an acid trip. The last few lines, however? Believe it or not-Uncle Vanya.

Frank Scheck, New York Stage Review: The performances by the supporting cast are uneven, with Silverman and Fitzgerald coming off best and Birney nearly vocally unintelligible in her overly frantic turn as the ill-fated Gloria. Broshanan is terrific, especially in the play's first half when Iris comes across as vibrantly sexy and funny (her dancing interludes are priceless). And Isaac, who has the more prominent role, proves compelling every moment he's onstage, confirming his status as one of the most charismatic, talented actors working today and making the play seem more cohesive than it actually is.

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: Given the three-hour running time, these various plot strands should have been resolved less abruptly and more credibly. I'd like to think that "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" would have been a better play had Hansberry been able to spend more time with it; she was deathly ill during the run-up to the show and died at the age of 34 on January 12, 1965, two days after it closed. But there are plenty of reasons for me to delight in this rare revival, some of it historic, some of it aesthetic, some of it personal.

Christian Holub, EW: Sometimes it's easy to look back on the political victories of the '60s and wish that we too lived in a time when the radical change of the civil rights movement or the antiwar movement seemed possible. There was energy in the air: "The world is about to crack down the middle," Sidney tells Mavis at one point. But in the wake of yet another way-too-warm winter, our own world feels like it's about to crack from the strain of climate change, pandemics, and other disasters. Things will only get worse if people don't stand together and fight for a better world. Decades after Hansberry's death, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window remains a powerful call to embrace that fight. This imaginatively-staged, passionately-acted production does justice to her political vision. A-

Peter Marks, Washington Post: This lesser-known work is receiving the vibrant airing it deserves, courtesy of the Brooklyn Academy of Music and director Anne Kauffman. She shepherds a sparkling cast of eight, led by Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan, through the early-'60s personal and political travails that unsettle the marriage of Isaac's Sidney and Brosnahan's Iris. Through this intimate prism, Hansberry develops a layered manifesto, about the urgency of abandoning political neutrality and disrupting the status quo.