No man is an island
It’s 1964, and Sidney Brustein is in his element: a Jewish intellectual in the heart of Greenwich Village, a hotbed of artists, activists and social upheaval. But nothing has brought him happiness—not his bohemian friends, his wife Iris, his failed folkie nightclub, or even his own lofty ideals. Then, when a turbulent political campaign sparks him into action and Iris begins yearning for a different life, he’s forced to decide what’s really worth fighting for. This 50th-anniversary production of a neglected classic by Lorraine Hansberry (“A Raisin in the Sun”) explores the rocky landscape of love, choices and consequences with poignancy and biting humor.
Meet the Brustein’s: Sidney, a self-described bohemian, and his wife, Iris Parodus, and aspiring actress. The time is 1964 and the place is their apartment in Greenwich Village, where impromptu arguments about art, politics and religion are the norm. Sidney and Iris play host to a close group of family and friends who drop in for conversation and the occasional paella dinner.
Although they are fond of each other, Sidney and Iris are an ill-matched couple: He is an intellectual who dreams of being in the woods; she is a former country girl who loves living in the city. Sidney’s desire for Iris to fulfill his fantasy of her as a backwoods nymph causes her to lash out at him in frustration.
Sidney has just taken over a local community newspaper. His friend Alton pushes him to back another friend, Wally O’Hara, who’s running for a seat in local politics. Sidney declares he no longer cares about politics and won’t take up any more causes, but is persuaded to hang a large political sign in his window.
Iris, who is struggling with her acting career, takes a job on a television commercial for home permanents. Sidney tells her she’s selling out, which adds to the strain in their marriage. She heads off to a party without inviting him and later moves out.
Meanwhile, Alton has declared his lover for Iris’ younger sister, Gloria, not knowing she is a call girl. Mavis, Iris’ older sister, would like to see Gloria settle down, but when she learns that Alton, whose light skin allows him to pass for white, is actually black, she isn’t supportive.
In a desperate attempt to save his marriage, Sidney asks David, the upstairs neighbor whose play has suddenly become a hit, to write a part for Iris in his next play. And to sweeten the deal, he offers to write a positive review of the play in his newspaper.
Wally inexplicably wins the election, and Sidney is excited that change might really happen this time.
Alton found out the truth about Gloria and decides that he can’t see her, let alone marry her. He asks Sidney to give her his goodbye letter. Mavis, singing Sidney’s praises as a political campaign genius, reveals to him the compromises she has made in her own marriage. After she leaves, Iris enters quietly, hoping to pack up the rest of her things. But before she does, she tells her husband that Wally is controlled by the very people he is supposedly fighting against. She can’t believe Sidney didn’t realize it.
Later that night, Gloria arrives, giddy with excitement about starting a new life with Alton. She has quit the profession and sworn off drugs and booze. But when Sidney hands her Alton’s letter, she understands its significance immediately. David comes downstairs looking for Gloria’s “discreet” help with a young man in his apartment. Gloria agrees to participate, but at the last minute, she finds that she can’t. She takes an irreversible step away from the mess she’s in.
The next morning, Iris and Sidney respond to Gloria’s actions and Wally’s hypocrisy. The play ends with the couple declaring their commitment to each other and to caring about the world.
February 15 – July 3, 2014 Angus Bowmer Theatre Oregon Shakespeare Festival