The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window May/June 2016 The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window features

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The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

May/June 2016

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window features

• Lorraine Hansberry: Young, Gifted and Black

• Between Despair and Joy: The Singularity of Lorraine Hansberry on Broadway in 1964

• The Lorraine Hansberry Celebration

• Village Intellect Revealed

• A Conversation with Director Anne Kauffman

The Production

• Why The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window?

• The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

• Artist Profiles

The Theater

• A Brief History of Goodman Theatre

• Ticket Information, Parking, Restaurants and More

• Staff

• Public Events
Leadership and Support

• Civic Committee

• Leadership

• Support

At the Goodman

• Essential Goodman: The 2016/2017 Season

• The Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement at Goodman Theatre Opens This May

• Coming Soon to the Goodman

Lorraine Hansberry: Young, Gifted and Black

By Jonathan L. Green

I was born on the South Side of Chicago. I was born black and

a female.” —Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry, the first black woman playwright to have a play produced on Broadway, was born on the South Side of Chicago in 1930. Her father, Carl Hansberry, worked in real estate and eventually ran an unsuccessful bid for Congress as a Republican. Both her parents were leaders in the South Side’s black community, and their home was frequented by such illustrious personalities as Jesse Owens, Duke Ellington, Joe Louis and Paul Robeson. In what served as inspiration for Hansberry’s most famous work, A Raisin in the Sun, Carl moved his family into a white neighborhood close to the University of Chicago when Lorraine was a child. Many neighborhoods at the time had real estate covenants barring non-white residents, and after moving into their new house, the family faced violent mobs. Lorraine, at the age of eight, was struck by a brick that was thrown through one of the home’s windows. Her mother, Nannie Hansberry, spent nights in the downstairs living room with a loaded pistol to protect her family from intruders. Carl and the NAACP filed a suit against covenants that went to the US Supreme Court two years later. He won the case, but in practice little changed, at least immediately, in the way Chicago real estate was run. Lorraine believed the stress and heartache of those years caused her father’s death at age 50 in 1946.
After high school, Lorraine studied painting for a time at the Art Institute of Chicago before transferring to the University of Wisconsin. One day, she wandered into a rehearsal of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, an experience that she would later credit as her first step on the path to playwriting. In the Irish playwright’s work, she heard pain, a cry of inequality from working class people and a melody and authenticity that she found electrifying. Or, as Hansberry described it, “the genuine heroism which must naturally emerge when you tell the truth about people.” At the age of 20, she left UW and moved to Harlem, where she started working as an editor for Freedom, the underground black monthly published by Paul Robeson. By 23, she married Robert Nemiroff, a white civil rights activist, writer and music publisher she met at a protest at New York University. In 1957, Hansberry completed her first draft of A Raisin in the Sun and presented it to some of her husband’s colleagues. They quickly signed on to produce the play.
Over the next two years, Hansberry and her director, Lloyd Richards, worked further on the play and presented productions in Pittsburgh, New Haven and Chicago. When A Raisin in the Sun transferred to Broadway in 1959, it played over 500 performances to rave reviews, packed houses and received many awards and nominations. Hansberry was recruited to write the screenplay for a film adaptation of Raisin. She was forced, however, to rewrite the script twice when Columbia Pictures told her that her first drafts were too controversial. She was also commissioned to write a teleplay for NBC about slavery and the Civil War—the script was titled The Drinking Gourd—but Hansberry was again told that her writing was too controversial for the time, and the project was cancelled. In 1961, Hansberry and Nemiroff moved to a house in Croton-on-Hudson, 40 miles north of their Greenwich Village apartment. Hansberry split her time between writing and fighting Southern segregation with the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and many other colleagues including James Baldwin, Lena Horne and Paul Robeson. Two years later, several months after being diagnosed with cancer, Hansberry and Nemiroff quietly divorced. They told almost no one of their separation and remained close collaborators. Despite her illness and frequent hospitalizations, Hansberry plowed ahead with rehearsals for a slightly delayed Broadway production of her newest play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. Sidney Brustein opened on Broadway in October of 1964 to decent reviews, but the lack of “smash hit” status hurt the production at the box office. Through the vigilant support of Hansberry’s colleagues and admirers, the play eventually lasted 101 performances.
On January 12, 1965, three months into the play’s run, Hansberry succumbed to her illness at the age of 34. That evening’s performance of Sidney Brustein was canceled due to word of Hansberry’s passing, and the play’s fate remained in limbo until it was ultimately decided the production would close without resuming performances. At her funeral, attended by over 600 people in a small brick-walled church, Robeson spoke, Nina Simone sang, a letter was read from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a quiet Malcolm X sat in the back pew. Posthumously, Nemiroff published a new edition of Sidney Brustein, an edition of Hansberry’s unfinished play Les Blancs (written as a response to Jean Genet’s Les Negres) and a collection of Hansberry’s writings, speeches and diary entries entitled To Be Young, Gifted and Black, which was produced both as a play and a book in 1969. Today her work is promoted by the Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust, and her complete papers are on display to the public at the Schomburg Center for Research in black Culture in Harlem.

Entering a New Era: Welcome to Goodman Theatre’s New Alice Rapoport

Center for Education and Engagement!
Opening in May, “the Alice” is the next phase in the Goodman’s 30-year commitment to educating Chicago youth and promoting lifelong learning for audiences of all ages. Named for the late Goodman Trustee Alice Rapoport and accessible via the Goodman’s second floor lobby, the Alice becomes our welcoming new home for public programs, readings, seminars, auditions and workshops.
We believe the arts have the power to serve as a catalyst for positive social change. Theater is more than a play or a place: it is an inspiring, expansive lens on the world that can profoundly engage communities and expand minds. Our arts-based education programs inspire audiences of all ages and promote literacy and learning, build self-confidence and empower some of the city’s most vulnerable populations by surrounding them with emotional support networks and outlets for artistic expressions. Bring your family for a day of creative fun in the Alice on Saturday, May 21, for an open house with free programming for all ages. While onsite, you can visit the space for the Goodman’s pre- and post-performance discussions (PlayTalks and PlayBacks), which will permanently move to the Alice (see page 50). We hope to see you there!
Join us on Saturday, May 21, for FREE open house events expressly for Subscribers and their families.
9am and 10:30am | PlayTime Workshop

Join this interactive family program in which 5-12 year-olds and their parents/guardians fashion a theatrical creation together in only 90 minutes.

10am | Insider Access: “How Do Actors Learn All Those Darned Lines?”

Meet acclaimed actor Mary Beth Fisher (star of such Goodman productions as Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Luna Gale) and learn how actors bring words from the page to the stage by participating in her creative process.

12noon | PlayBuild Workshop

Realize your creative potential in this intergenerational collective workshop! Participants will create performance pieces using personal history and storytelling techniques.

1pm | Insider Access: “Not Acting Our Age”

Enjoy a lively discussion with a handful of Chicago actors age 55+ about their esteemed bodies of work and the thrill of a life in the theater.

1:45pm | Storytelling Workshop

Master the art of storytelling with teaching artists from the Goodman’s GeNarrations program.

In this collaborative ensemble-based workshop, participants learn the basics of writing, editing and performing personal narrative stories.
3pm | Insider Access: “Slap! Kick! Punch!”

Have some energy to burn? Learn the art of stage combat, the technique used to perform physical combats without causing harm to actors, from a professional fight choreographer.

*Please note all events and times are subject to change.
For more information about the Alice and to RSVP for open house events, please visit

Between Despair and Joy: The Singularity of Lorraine Hansberry on Broadway in 1964

By Jonathan L. Green

Nineteen Sixty-Four was not a great year for serious dramas on Broadway. Or rather, it was not a great year for serious drama at the box office on Broadway. By Thanksgiving of that year, only five of the then-running 27 Broadway shows were dramas, and three of those had already posted closing notices. Lorraine Hansberry’s The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, her first Broadway production following the highly successful A Raisin in the Sun in 1959, was one of the two still standing.
The New York Times theater section of that Thursday mostly featured ads for star-driven musicals (Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly!; Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl; Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof) and comedies (“The new smash comedy hit” Any Wednesday, the “hurricane of hilarity” Barefoot in the Park, The Owl and the Pussycat in which “the laughs roll on and on”). Smaller advertisements for edgier shows off-Broadway highlighted existential, absurdist pieces like Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit and Harold Pinter’s The Room and A Slight Ache, which themselves had found a growing audience.
The majority of American theatrical output after World War II, with the country in the midst of the Cold War, walked one of two divergent paths. Widely termed “The Golden Age of Musical Theater,” the 1950s and ‘60s saw an explosion of stories trumpeting grinning, white-toothed affirmations. While not every musical that premiered during this time steered clear of darkness and politicization, most works served as diversions, providing an escape from the horrors of the second World War and upholding the triumph of good over evil in eye-popping, lavish works like The Music Man, Damn Yankees and The Pajama Game.
Meanwhile, French existentialist thought flooded the world of art; Eugène Ionesco, Pinter, Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee flourished on many of America’s avant-garde stages as their worlds, which questioned the existence of God and the meaning of life, started more and more to mirror our own. Hansberry fought back against these ideas wholeheartedly, and while she criticized writers like Richard Wright for romanticizing “black despair” as a term of the absurdity of life, she too was criticized by other thinkers of her time who found her work overly earnest, soap-operatic and purposefully and frustratingly avoiding, as The Village Voice put it, “the ever-present (and ever-so-popular) vogue of despair.” Hansberry wrote back, “Attention must be paid in equal and careful measure to the frequent triumph of man, if not nature, over the absurd.”
Hansberry’s views, though, were not based on any sort of naiveté. As an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, working in the midst of mid-century racism and Jim Crow laws, she was all too aware of the surrounding despair. When she wrote the text for a photo journal called The Movement for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early ‘60s, she found her words accompanying sobering, unspeakable images of black men lynched and burned alive. In a speech in the late ‘50s, Hansberry recalled a conversation with a Greenwich Village intellectual wherein she was challenged, “Why are you so sure the human race should go on?” Her response was swift, “Man is unique in the universe, the only creature that has in fact the power to transform the universe. Therefore, it did not seem unthinkable to me that man might just do what the apes never will—impose the reason for life on life.” This sentiment is echoed in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. In one scene, Sidney impassionedly states, “The ‘why’ of why we are here is an intrigue for adolescents. The ‘how’ is what commands the living.” Just two years before the Broadway premiere of Sidney Brustein, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf enjoyed a successful run as an alternative, sophisticated, avant-garde Broadway hit. Hansberry struck back at what she saw as the spiritual poverty of those marinating in the hip narcissism and malaise of existentialism: many scholars claim that the aloof playwright character of David in Sidney Brustein was inspired by Albee and his absurdist work, and, in fact, a 1963 draft of Hansberry’s script was subtitled Up Yours, Ed Albee.
Hansberry was battling pancreatic cancer when Sidney Brustein opened in late 1964 in a production starring Gabriel Dell as the title character and Academy Award winner Rita Moreno (West Side Story) as Iris. Despite Hansberry’s health limiting her participation in the rehearsal process, reviews for the play were decent. Broadway audiences (at least those favoring musical comedies) felt no appetite for a work that focused on the real problems facing their country and urged existentialists to move beyond their ennui and do something. It was only with the ceaseless backing and funding of other well-known activists that the show was able to stay open for business as long as it did. Daily ads for the show in The New York Times featured open letters to the theater-going public, written and signed (and paid for) by famous Hansberry supporters James Baldwin, Lillian Hellman, Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Marlon Brando, Mike Nichols, Alan Alda, Sammy Davis, Jr. and many more, imploring them to see the show. These testimonials allowed the show to continue past its opening night, with the production eventually reaching 101 performances.
Towards the end of her life, Hansberry wrote, “In the next 10 years I hope that serious American art will re-discover the world around it… [and] render the infinite varieties of the human spirit—which invariably hangs between despair and joy.”

The Lorraine Hansberry Celebration
Don’t miss these special events honoring the legendary Chicago playwright.
April 30 – June 5
During the run of Lorraine Hansberry’s The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, Goodman Theatre will present the citywide Lorraine Hansberry Celebration, a detailed exploration of the life and work of this remarkable Chicago artist.
Best known for her classic A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry was one of American theater’s most crucial artistic forces, creating stage works that captured the seismic political changes in mid-20th century America. The celebration will include free events such as presentations of staged excerpts from each of her plays and discussions with noted Hansberry scholars analyzing her works and their importance. The inaugural Lorraine Hansberry Awards will also be held during the celebration with awards presented to notable African American women who, like Hansberry, grew up in Chicago and went on to distinguished careers in theater. Celebration programs will take place throughout May at Goodman Theatre, the Chicago Cultural Center and other community locations.
Monday, May 2

Chuck Smith Lecture Series: In Her Own Words: The Lorraine

Hansberry/Studs Terkel Interview

7pm | Owen Theatre

FREE, Reservations Required
Sunday, May 8

Artist Encounter: The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

5pm | Healy Rehearsal Room

$5 for the general public; FREE for Subscribers, Donors and Students
Tuesday, May 10

Scholar Discussion: A Raisin in the Sun and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

7pm | Healy Rehearsal Room

FREE, Reservations Required
Saturday, May 14

Carl Hansberry: His World and Legacy

A Bus tour of SOuth Side Chicago

10:30am departure from goodman theatre (tour lasts

approximately two hours) | $15 for the general public;

$10 for subscribers, Donors and students
Monday, May 16

Scholar Discussion: The Drinking Gourd and What Use Are Flowers?

With Coya Paz

7pm | Healy Rehearsal Room

FREE, Reservations Required

Tuesday, May 17

Scholar Discussion: Les Blancs

With Ivy Wilson

7pm | Arts Incubator, 301 E. Garfield Blvd.

FREE, Reservations Required

Thursday, May 19

Lorraine Hansberry Day in Chicago

The ALice Rapoport Center at Goodman theatre

On what would have been her 86th birthday, Lorraine Hansberry’s legacy is celebrated with a number of special events at the newly-opened Alice Rapoport Center for Education and

Engagement at Goodman Theatre.

Monday, May 23

Scholar Discussion: To Be Young, Gifted and Black: How Much Has Changed?

6:30pm | Harold Washington Library Pritzker Auditorium,

400 S. State St.

FREE, Reservations Required

Tuesday, May 24

Lorraine Hansberry Awards

Hosted by Chuck Smith and Woodie King, Jr.

7pm | Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.

Accessible Entrance at 77 E. Randolph St.

FREE, Reservations Required | LIMITED AVAILABILITY
For Tickets and Information: 312.443.3800 or

Village Intellect Revealed

By Lorraine Hansberry

The week before The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window opened at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre in 1964, Lorraine Hansberry penned a column in The New York Times about her hopes and intentions for the play. The full article is below.
Some years back a friend of mine called to say she was subjected to mental harassment because she had in her window a certain political poster that exhorted its readers in behalf of the opposition of the then entrenched and powerful regular machine in her district.
Her reaction to this captivated me immediately. She was an utterly apolitical transplanted Westerner with a twanging and seemingly indifferent accent on life whom I took to be the unlikeliest person in the world to be found locked in some pointmaking struggle with big city politics. And I was captivated because I had been brought up on World War movies, and her reaction was exactly what it would have been in a wartime movie: she wasn’t about to be threatened into removing that sign. Her Mr. Smith Goes to Washington pioneer marrow had risen to the occasion. Naturally, I sat down to write a rather obvious play about the incident: Oklahoma stubbornness, in conflict with oily New York political conformity, triumphs.
Inevitably, if you know playwrights, the play and my interest in it shifted over the years as I worked at it. It stopped being preoccupied with my friend’s quaint character to a point where she dropped out of the play altogether to be replaced by another character who, more and more, as the play became obsessed with the problem of political commitment in general, came to dominate the work. That character’s name was, through a process of evolution, Sidney Brustein.
Few things are more natural than that the tortures of the engagé should attract me thematically. Being 34 years old at this writing means that I am of the generation that grew up in the swirl and dash of the Sartre-Camus debate of the post-war years. The silhouette of the Western intellectual poised in hesitation before the flames of involvement was an accurate symbolism of some of my closest friends, some of whom crossed each other leaping in an out, for instance, of the Communist Party. Others searched, as agonizingly, for some ultimate justification of their lives in the abstractions flowing out of London or Paris. Still others were contorted into seeking a meaningful repudiation of all justifications of anything and had, accordingly, turned to Zen, action painting or even just Jack Kerouac.
Play’s Core
Mine is, after all, the generation that came to maturity drinking in the forebodings of the Silones, Koestlera and Richard Wrights. It had left us ill-prepared for decisions that had to be made in our own time about Algeria, Birmingham or the Bay of Pigs.
By the 1960s, few enough American intellectuals had it within them to be ashamed that their discovery of the “betrayal” of the Cuban Revolution by Castro just happened to coincide with the change of heart of official American government policy. They left it to TV humorists to defend the agrarian reform in the end. It is the climate and mood of such intellectuals, if not those particular events, which constitute the core of a play called The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.
It is a play about a nervous, ulcerated, banjo-making young man in whom I see an embodiment of a certain kind of Greenwich Village intellectual as I have known him during the 10 years of my life that I lived in that community.
In fact, it was my hope in the writing of this particular play to “do something” about stage intellectuals (as, indeed I once hoped I might “do something” about stage negroes.) The American theater (and motion picture) concept of “intellectual,” it seems to me, is someone who wears horn-rimmed glasses and exceedingly attractive tweed sports jackets and speaks in stilted phrases until they are shown true life by some earthy mess of a girl in black stockings.
A Question
The corduroy-wearing chukka-booted, Bergman film-loving, non-cold water flat-living, New School lecture-attending, Washington Square concert-going, middle class and usually Jewish argument-loving Greenwich Village intellectual has rarely peopled our stage in his full dimension.
It is my belief that The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window fills in something of a genuine portrait

of the milieu.

Some persons ask how it is that I have “left the negro question” in the writing of this latest play. I hardly know how to answer as it seems to me that I have never written about “the negro question.”
A Raisin in the Sun, for instance, was a play about an American family’s conflict with certain of the mercenary values of its society, and its characters were negroes. As indeed are the characters of several of my other plays. But many of the characters in all my plays are also white. I write plays about various matters which have both negro and white characters in them, and there is really nothing else that I can think of to say about the matter.

For more insight into Lorraine Hansberry’s work, including an interview with Joi Gresham, executive director of the Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust, visit Goodman Theatre’s digital magazine OnStage+ at

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