Summoning Sidney Brustein

“The silhouette of the Western intellectual poised in hesitation before the flames of involvement was an accurate symbolism of my closest friends.”
–Lorraine Hansberry in reference to her play The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

When I was young, I used to haunt cemeteries. They were peaceful and pretty, and I think I liked the order of the headstones, which explains why most of my doodles from the last decade consist of frames. Cemeteries were solemn, and only when I thought about it too hard did it become creepy to think that there was a city of parallel people six feet beneath me. That said, I’ve never wished to conjure the dead before. I am fortunate in that I have lost comparatively few friends and relations (knock on wood), though those few losses were (are), of course, sad and, some of them, heart-breaking. I’ve always had trouble with the “if you could have a conversation with any person from history, who would it be?” question. If pressed, I would provide the safe answer: Jesus, so he could set the story straight once and for all.

After facebook-spying on a friend whose holiday status-update at one point read “Drinking whisky with my grandad,” I would definitely revise my answer to both of my grandfathers, neither of whom I had the pleasure of meeting. But only if pressed. I would not, on my own, go wishing for the mystical opportunity to bring them back. Everything and everyone in their own time.

Only this evening, with my second encounter with Hansberry’s unfinished play The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, did I for the first time actively seek a spirit. Sidney Brustein is a wonderful, dark, playful, funny, scary, timely play, but it is just so not finished! I respond to the play as I would a new work, taking notes on what the scenes are trying to do, breaking down where the structure is trying to take the play, picking off characters, whom I love, but I’m sorry ya just gotta go! I will take my scribblings home to repackage into pleasantly worded questions for my playwright: Why do you think Sidney puts the sign up in his window in the second scene after denouncing activism in the first? In Act II, why is it important to you to delve so deeply into the lives of three characters who are peripheral to the main action? How much of Robert Nemiroff is in your Sidney; how much of you is in your Iris? How much of you is in your Sidney?

But who will respond? She’s been gone for over 40 years.

And so I dim the lights.
I light some candles.
I visit and disregard the warning.
Soon my eyes roll back in my head,
because I am too sleepy after a 12 hour day
and too impatient.
Tomorrow I will see if the library has To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words, 1969.
I’ll conjure spirits in my old fashioned way.

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