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Baitz, Jon Robin (b. 1961)  
 
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Baitz has described his own response to apartheid as a moral failure. "When one is confronted with such day-to-day evil, it should be very clear how to respond," he explained in an interview. "And yet I found myself lacking--found myself, my peers, my parents, my parents' friends, the world lacking."

The play's protagonist, Jonathon Balton, a weak-willed teacher and head of the school's film society, uses the extracurricular group as an escape from the brutal political realities around him.

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The play received enthusiastic reviews and Baitz was frequently compared by critics to such politically responsive playwrights as Simon Gray and Athol Fugard.

The success of the play in Los Angeles led to a New York Off-Broadway production in 1988 starring Nathan Lane. It received a nomination later that year for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play.

His next play, Dutch Landscape, a semi-autobiographical portrait of an American family living abroad, premiered in Los Angeles in 1989, but was regarded by most critics as a failure.

Baitz rebounded, however, with his next production, The Substance of Fire, which opened Off-Broadway in 1991 to generally ecstatic reviews. The play examines the deterioration of an imperious and once-influential publisher as he battles with his three children, one of whom is gay, for control of the family's failing publishing firm.

Writing in the New York Times, critic Frank Rich found the work "deeply compassionate," written "with both scrupulous investigative zeal and bottomless sympathy." Rich further asserted that "line by line, insight by insight, scene by scene, [Baitz's] writing is already so articulate, witty and true that it's only a matter of time before his theatrical know-how, some of which must come with experience, catches up with his talent."

The award-winning production was directed by Daniel Sullivan, with Ron Rifkin, in a "career-transforming performance," as the embattled father and Sarah Jessica Parker as his sensitive daughter.

Rifkin and Parker reprised their stage roles, joining Tony Goldwyn and Timothy Hutton among others, for the 1996 film adaptation of The Substance of Fire, also directed by Sullivan, with a screenplay by Baitz.

Baitz and Rifkin have gone on to forge a strong theatrical alliance. Rifkin starred in the 1993 New York production of Baitz's Three Hotels; he appeared in the 2002 Boston production of Ten Unknowns; and starred in The Paris Letter, first in Los Angeles in 2004 and then a year later in New York. In 2006, Rifkin took a recurring role on the Baitz-created television series Brothers & Sisters as a middle-aged man struggling with his homosexuality.

Three Hotels is told in the form of alternating monologues by two characters--Kenneth Hoyle, a ruthless businessman facing a moral crisis, and his embittered wife Barbara. The play was originally produced in 1991 for the PBS-Television series American Playhouse, with Baitz himself directing. He won a Humanitas Award, which honors excellence in television and film writing, for the production.

Baitz later revised and expanded the play for its 1993 New York premiere, directed by Joe Mantello. Reviewing the production for Time, William A. Henry III, announced that "with these speeches, Jon Robin Baitz vaults into the top rank of U.S. dramatists."

Recent Work

Ten Unknowns (2001) concentrates on Malcolm Raphelson (portrayed by Donald Sutherland in the original New York production), a hard-drinking, underappreciated artist who is on the verge of being rediscovered. He is visited by, and enjoys sparring with, Trevor, an art dealer eager to revive the aging artist's career for his own gains, and Trevor's lover Judd, a talented, although cynical and self-doubting painter, who inspires Raphelson toward a new burst of creativity.

The Paris Letter (2004) is concerned with, as Baitz has described the play, "the survivors, the benefactors, and the victims of a sexual revolution." The work focuses on the tortured affection between two middle-age gay men: Anton, who has been open and honest about his sexuality, and Sandy, an old friend and briefly a lover, who has lived in self-denial, choosing a more normative, heterosexual life, a decision that ultimately engenders his self-destruction.

Charles Isherwood, writing for the New York Times, found the play "intriguingly expansive in its dramatic scope and ambition," and noted that Baitz "is always most interesting, and most effortlessly articulate, when he is tracing the interlocking grooves of psychology and morality."

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