Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Excellent Cast Gives Superb Play in Stunning New Dobama Setting

Cleveland Press May 17, 1968

Dobama Theater opened last night after more than four years of darkness. It is in its new home in Cleveland Heights, a new arena theater that is solid and functional and handsome.

But this is not the notable matter at hand. It was the company, itself, which on this opening night also proved itself to be just as solid and functional and handsome.

Surely few productions, even in the professional theater, have been both so smoothly professional and so wonderfully inspired.

To note that this is a little theater group is not to offer the reader a warning but to establish that this production is far and away out of the ordinary run of little theater offerings.

As its first presentation Dobama is offering the first local production of "The Sign in Sydney Brustein's Window." Anyone interested in what is new and exciting in the theater owes it to himself to see this play.

IT IS A WORK in which the writer, the late Lorraine Hansberry, reached into life and grabbed a handful of complexities.

As a play measured against other and more popular plays it is a work easy to find fault with. It is long and talkative but it also is spontaneous and full of life.

Sidney Brunstein is a man who states that the world needs insults and he shows that he is the man to deliver them. But he is not as cynical as that statement sounds, for he has faith. Nor is he perfect himself, not a man unwilling to engage in a small corruption.

SYDNEY IS A LOSER and his wife loves him and is exasperated with him and hopes for something better. The play is as much a story of a shaky marriage as it is of social issues.

And of issues the play has plenty. But Miss Hansberry did not develop them neatly as one would expect them in a well-made play, but instead allowed them to develop unexpectedly and realistically.

THOUGH WRITING from an extremely liberal point of view she allows her liberals to have shortcomings, her arch conservatives their moments of understanding. She indicates that the victim of persecution also is likely to be cruel.

She has people in her play who are outcasts because of their politics or their race or their morals or their perversions. But she presents them as humans who -- like many humans -- may not completely surmount their difficulties.

THE CAST IS good all the way. James Wilcher in the role of Sydney is on stage almost the entire time. His speeches are long and complicated with even a few old-fashioned soliloquies thrown in. Wilcher is not only convincing but moving. So is Elarka Hakanson as his wife in another difficult role.

As the conservative, fussy and easily shocked sister Lee June proved herself an actress with an understanding for all the nuances of a role.

DON BIANCHI has directed the play so that it is not weighted down with its speeches. Instead it is spirited with an awareness that there are interrelationships among the characters. The production also takes full advantage of the abundant humor in the script.

"The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" is an auspicious reopening for Dobama.