Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan follow ‘The Sign’ to Broadway
The actors share how a transfer of Lorraine Hansberry's drama quickly came together — and why it's necessary to introduce the play to new audiences.
"There was a night where Oscar was saying something like, 'Well, if we transferred [to Broadway], I would do this and this and this,'" recalled The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window director Anne Kauffman. At the time, the Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan-led revival of Lorraine Hansberry's drama was in the middle of its six-week run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. With both stars in demand in Hollywood, everyone expected the production — The Sign's first New York revival in 50 years — to begin and end at BAM earlier this year.
But Isaac's offhand comment was a sign of the opposite. Call it coincidence or manifestation, but just as the BAM run was ending, Broadway's James Earl Jones Theatre unexpectedly opened up after another production got postponed. Two weeks later, The Sign announced its Broadway transfer, opening on April 27 — the last day to be eligible for Tony Awards in the 2022-23 season.
Kauffman, Isaac, and Brosnahan still seem slightly surprised by the quickness of it all. Isaac, for one, is suddenly making his Broadway debut — a major milestone even for someone who's worked extensively off Broadway since 2005 and found global screen fame in Star Wars, Scenes From a Marriage, and more. Brosnahan is on Broadway for only the second time — she appeared in Clifford Odets's The Big Knife in 2013 — and she now returns after The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel made her a household name.
Both have embraced The Sign for allowing them to depart from their famous screen roles. They play 1960s bohemian couple Sidney (Isaac) and Iris (Brosnahan) Brustein, who chase unrealistic, progressive political ideals at the cost of their marriage. Hansberry, best known for A Raisin in the Sun, writes densely, tackling myriad sociopolitical themes that resonate today, and Isaac and Brosnahan take them all in stride.
"It's dreamy. It's kind of like paradise," Kauffman said of working with the duo. "[Lorraine] draws very complicated characters. [Brosnahan and Isaac] have the capability of actually filling all the various angles and various people that live inside them. You don't find actors that can do that all the time."
People might come to see these A-listers on their A-game, but Brosnahan and Isaac hope they'll leave with a new appreciation for Hansberry, for theatre, or for the timeless nature of The Sign — if not all three. Hear them talk about all this and more in their joint interview with New York Theatre Guide.
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Oscar, how does it feel to make your Broadway debut — especially on such short notice?
Oscar Isaac: It came together very quickly. It was so unexpected and sudden and not planned out. It's the perfect way to do it because there's no time to think about it. The energy of it and the punk-rock nature of it happening this way is really cool. I'm happy this is the way I'll be first getting up on that Broadway stage.
And for you, Rachel, it's your first time on Broadway in 10 years. How are you feeling about your return?
Rachel Brosnahan: It feels incredible and, again, so surprising — this is not the way we thought this journey would unfold, but it feels like it's just fallen together really organically.
The last time I was on Broadway, I was doing a lesser-known work of Clifford Odets. It feels like kismet that way, to be bringing back this lesser-known piece of Lorraine back to Broadway.
How have your past roles informed your approach to the Brusteins? There seem to be some parallels — for example, both Midge Maisel and Llewyn Davis appear in 1960s Greenwich Village.
Brosnahan: I make a mean salad on stage in this production. That feels like the only real tie-in. One of the great thrills of working on this has been that they feel so radically different. Maisel's an uptown comedy, and this is a downtown drama with hints of comedy in there, too.
The two characters couldn't be more different. Iris is someone who's vulnerable and emotional and feels like a sheet in the wind in the way she moves through the world. It's been fun to work on two radically different pieces even though they have a time period and a city in common.
Isaac: Everything that I've done up until now informs what I do. I got to do such a deep dive into the folk scene working on [Inside Llewyn Davis] that all that knowledge — not all of it, but a lot of it is still in there. I'm sure Sidney probably ran into Llewyn somewhere along the way.
What's exciting and feels so different is this incredible voice that Lorraine Hansberry unleashes in this play. Exploring that every night is so thrilling.
What does it mean to you to introduce a new generation of audiences to Hansberry's work?
Brosnahan: We're in conversation with this play, or this play is in conversation with us, in so many ways right now. We're asking a lot of the same questions that Lorraine was about art and politics and relationships and identity, so it feels like we need a younger generation. We need audiences that don't necessarily get the opportunity to come to the theatre to be able to come see this show, so they can continue the conversation that Lorraine started back when she wrote this play.
It's been really, really exciting to come out of the stage door at BAM and see so many young people coming to see this show. The number of people who said that this was the first play they ever saw at the stage door was so surprising. I hope that more people who have either never seen a play before or have never seen a play of Lorraine's or never seen this play get to come see it and be in that conversation with us.
Isaac: There's such an incredible energy in the play, and in a time when people can be very afraid to ask the wrong question, to see a play about people who are all presumably on the "right" side, or on the same side, transgressing and saying the wrong thing and fucking up and behaving horribly — and yet, Lorraine Hansberry treats them with empathy as well.
Through all the challenging, difficult screwups that they go through, a deeper truth emerges. That's a really important thing to watch.
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