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Baitz, Jon Robin (b. 1961)  
 
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One of the foremost American playwrights working today, Jon Robin Baitz is the author of such highly praised plays as The Substance of Fire, Three Hotels, and A Fair Country. His works are generally regarded as both morally serious and politically conscious, with a focus on such themes as power, corruption, personal responsibility, and the enduring skirmishes between fathers and sons in Oedipal opposition.

Ben Brantley, chief theater critic for the New York Times, noted that Baitz "is without peer among his contemporaries in creating dialogue that spontaneously conveys a character's social context and moral limitations, not to mention a self-consciousness about both."

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Characters both gay and straight, as well as those whose sexual identities blur all labels, populate his work. While his earlier plays often relegate homosexual characters to secondary roles, some of his more recent work, such as the play The Paris Letter, and the television drama Brothers & Sisters, which Baitz created and serves as executive producer, prominently feature gay male characters.

From 1990 to 2002, Baitz was in a widely-chronicled romantic partnership with the theater director Joe Mantello. In 1994, the New York Times dubbed the two men "the New York theater's couple of the moment." In a profile on the playwright, The Advocate observed that the couple's "star quality lent the aura of a gay Lunt and Fontanne."

Early Life

Jon Robin Baitz was born on November 4, 1961 in Los Angeles, California. His father, an executive in the foreign division of the Carnation Company, uprooted the family when Baitz was eight years old, moving first to Brazil for two years and then to Durban, South Africa for six years.

"All of the living overseas was a good preparation for being a playwright," Baitz explained in a 2007 interview for Playbill, "because it's all about being foreign, and about language, and not understanding the language. You sort of develop an outsider's ear. If you have a tendency to be a bit of an eavesdropper, that's a perfect cauldron for being a playwright."

His family eventually returned to Los Angeles, and Baitz spent his senior year at Beverly Hills High School, which he once characterized as a "particularly odious, class-conscious place."

Upon graduating, Baitz decided against entering college. "Being a student seemed unreal," he told the New York Times, "and going to college seemed evasive--a kind of sidestepping maneuver. I had lived a very passive life up till that point."

Instead, Baitz traveled throughout Europe and to Israel, and took odd jobs to support himself, such as short-order cook and tractor-trailer driver. In his early twenties he returned to Los Angeles, where he worked as an assistant to two film producers before finally settling down to write.

He chose writing plays, he explained, because he thought dialogue was "simply the easiest way for a young writer to manage a world, manage an event."

Early Work

His first play, the one-act Mizlansky/Zilinsky, was produced in Los Angeles in 1985. The play is a stern but affectionate morality tale about two film producers on the fringes of the movie industry. The production was well received, winning an L.A. Weekly Theater Award, which honors excellence in Los Angeles theaters.

He revisited the work in the late-1990s, expanding it into a full-length two-act play, which he renamed Mizlansky/Zilinsky, or "Schmucks." It was produced in New York in 1998, under the direction of Baitz's then-partner Joe Mantello, and starred Nathan Lane and Lewis J. Stadlen. In the revised version, Baitz created several new characters, including a young, gay assistant named Paul Trecker.

In 1987, Baitz's first full-length play, The Film Society, was produced in Los Angeles. Baitz drew upon his experiences as a teenager in Durban for the play, which looks at apartheid through the eyes of the white staff of a conservative South African prep school.

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