Directed by G. Valmont Thomas
Running Time: 2 hr 30 min,  with one intermission

ESP returns with a rich and all-too-rare trip into the imagination of one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, Lorraine Hansberry. Hansberry followed her worldwide success with A Raisin in the Sun with this story of intellectual life in the Greenwich Village of the 1960s. The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window was the last of her plays to be produced in her lifetime, as she died of cancer, at the heartbreakingly young age of 34, during its Broadway run. It is a relationship comedy, a family tragedy, a serious look at the post-Kerouac generation. A snapshot of racial and sexual attitudes, it has a dance sequence and bluegrass music. It has deeply moral things to say about politics, and highly political things to say about morals.

Part of the series: Endangered Species Project

Endangered Species Project is an organization of distinguished Seattle theatre artists dedicated to presenting plays that seldom get full productions. While it is an essential duty of theatres to read and develop new work, there’s a parallel need to bring older neglected plays back to the stage. Through our simply staged readings, we lend live voices to plays that are now silent on our bookshelves.  

Founded in February of 2011, Endangered Species Project has consistently mounted monthly readings. Expanding from our core group of eleven, dozens of Seattle’s best and bravest actors have been instrumental in bringing new life to these plays. We strive to do nothing that gets between the audience and the play. We want to give full scope to those two most powerful forces in the theatre: a playwright’s ideas and the audience’s imagination.

Learn more at www.endangeredspeciesproject.org.

For ESP's reading, veteran actor and director G. Valmont Thomas helms a cast of top Seattle talent: 

E. Ray Anderson
Ken Boynton
Andrew Creech
Randy Hoffmeyer
Chelsea LeValley
Jon Lutyens
Jocelyn Maher
Teri Thomas

A Note from G. Valmont Thomas

Even though, as Robert Nemiroff, the late executor of her estate and former husband to Lorraine Hansberry says, she was in the midst of her battle against “the remorseless cancer” which finally claimed her life, Lorraine Hansberry was committed to making art until the day she died, three months later. She was committed to the last play that she would leave us with, i.e. The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. That tells us something very important about this woman…this Black American woman who put herself through pain, labored through illness and bouts of nausea, times of extreme weakness, and doubt to give this play to us. She thought there was something important for us in this collection of conversations between Americans. Americans searching for things to say after having gone through the worst they thought imaginable! A president assassinated? A near takeover by the political party with the worst record of the times…

When the original production of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window opened in 1964, in the critical period of the play’s staging, it was impossible for her, except very sporadically, to attend rehearsals to put the finishing touches on the work which had occupied her, on and off, for four years. Hansberry was able to see the entire play on its feet only a few nights before the opening and, overall, was gratified by what she saw. But she did feel the need for tightening, for some small but important clarifications of relationships and themes, some shifts in dramatic pacing, and (in one area) a restructuring to sharpen the focus on Sidney and Iris. She did some telling rewrites at that time—too late, alas, to go into performance until after the opening—and she discussed with me others that she planned. But she could not complete the final honing she felt the play needed to achieve its full potential.

The present script addresses that task. It is the fruit of those last discussions with Lorraine Hansberry about the play and of my own observations—as producer of the original and as the playwright’s literary executor—of many productions over the years; and of, in some instances invaluable, discussions with the principals in some of these (I am particularly grateful to the late great director Alan Schneider for his insights and help in this regard). In completing it, I went back, too, to the playwright’s original working drafts to draw upon those lines and approaches that might prove most cogent in effectuating the result she sought.

The culmination of this process came with a showcase production by New York’s Richard Allen Center, where it was possible to tryout and put ideas to the test. The result was unmistakable: the response of the audience overwhelming, the reviews unqualified. Significantly, these emphasized not just the power of individual scenes, the humanity and strength of the characters, as had always been the case, but the unity of the play and the contemporaneity of the playwright’s vision.

Still I needed to be sure. I offered the revised script to other local productions and some outside New York. The results were the same.

The present revision, then, incorporates into the play cuts, clarifications and some restructuring, with material by Lorraine Hansberry from earlier drafts, and some additions of my own.

In sum, my own additions are too small to call it an adaptation. This is Lorraine Hansberry’s play—in form, finally, I believe, to achieve its full impact and the recognition it has always deserved.