Critical Context (Comprehensive Guide to Drama)
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window opened on October 15, 1964, and closed on January 12, 1965, hours after Lorraine Hansberry died of cancer. There were 101 Broadway performances, each of them virtually the last show because of production problems (both the original star and the director were replaced a week before the opening; Hansberry was too ill to work on script revisions) and a mixed, largely hostile, critical reception. Despite the obstacles, actors and audience members donated money and energy to keep the play alive.
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window differs considerably from Hansberry’s most acclaimed work, A Raisin in the Sun (pr., pb. 1959). Perhaps critics were confounded because an African American playwright had turned away from an expected focus on black American family life and its struggles in white America, instead directing her attention to white characters confronting issues of moral responsibility, political corruption, anti-Semitism, sexuality, and commitment—the necessity not merely to survive but to become involved. Some reviewers found the play too didactic; others were bothered by what they saw as a lack of “concision and cohesion.” While one critic argued that The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window works within the tradition of the well-made play (orderly plot development, balanced scenes, smooth introduction of complications, clear climax and resolution), others noted the subordination of plot to character.
In this play, Hansberry dared to mix genres, fusing fantasy with realism, comedy with tragedy. She also dared to move outside the world of racial protest or “problem” drama, showing her concern for all people, whatever their racial, ethnic, social, or religious background. For this she was accused of being an “unadulterated integrationist” who would not examine the alienated black intellectual. The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window is unabashedly a play of ideas whose principal thrust is that unless people...
(The entire section is 463 words.)