The week before The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window opened at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre, 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.
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 show true life by some earthy mess of a girl in black stockings.
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 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.