The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window‘ Stars Rachel Brosnahan and Oscar Isaac Talk Revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1964 Play

Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan lit up the stage on Thursday night during the opening of “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Set in the 1960s bohemia of Greenwich Village, the play follows a couple struggling to find their authentic selves during a period of radical social change. Isaac said he was drawn to the story’s examination of identities and how they can fluctuate throughout the course of a marriage or a career.

“The real secret is there is no authentic self,” Isaac told Variety before the show. “It’s really hard to get to that place because you have to basically die. The ego death has to happen. And then you have to just allow yourself to feel.”

He continued, “All the selves that [Sidney] had defined, including his own, are disintegrating right in front of him. There’s nothing to hold onto, including his sign and the things that he feels like he’s supposed to be doing.”

The audience at opening night included Bradley Cooper, Mike Birbiglia and Keith Sutherland. One of the most enthusiastic audience members was Isaac’s “Moon Knight” co-star Ethan Hawke, who was seen laughing and cheering throughout the show.

“I’ll tell you one thing: Oscar is one of the best actors out there,” Hawke told Variety during intermission. “It’s not easy getting up on that stage.”

The production marks the first major New York revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s (“A Raisin in the Sun”) second and final play, which ran on Broadway in the fall of 1964. Nearly six decades later, many of the questions and conversations contained in Hansberry’s work remain utterly relevant.

“The play deals with so many things we’re talking about today with identity and politics; the function of art and the artist; white apathy; a desire for great change and a criticism of talk that isn’t followed up by action,” Brosnahan said. “In that way, Lorraine feels so prophetic and her voice feels so needed at this moment.”

Director Anne Kauffman was initially determined to open Hansberry’s “incredibly American” play before the 2020 election because of its unavoidable message about taking a stance against political injustice. When live events were indefinitely shut down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fate of the revival became uncertain. As theaters started opening back up, the crew questioned whether audiences would show up for a hefty drama about societal reform.

“It was easier to do a musical or do something that was entertaining and dramas just weren’t doing well,” said Joi Gresham, director of the Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust. “So we were real nervous about bringing Lorraine Hansberry back to the stage at that moment. Lorraine asks you to think — she challenges you — and this is a play about action and commitment.”

As it turned out, Kauffman said she realized that there wasn’t a better moment for Hansberry’s work to return to the stage.

“With COVID, George Floyd and the reemergence of vital activism, it’s the perfect time to be doing this play,” Kauffman said. “So that the white liberals, which is what the whole play is really about, we’ll get up off our butts and do something.”

If Hansberry was around to see the social movements taking place in America today, Gresham believes that she’d be at the forefront pushing for new progress.

“That was just her nature: to be engaged and be a part of it,” Gresham said. “She’d be really proud and linking arms with LBGTQ movements and marches. She would be pushing people to really think about what matters and what they want to be a part of. I think this play is an inspiration for that.”

“The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” will run at the BAM Harvey Theater through Mar. 24.

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