The Substance of Fire

The Substance of Fire is a play by Jon Robin Baitz.


Isaac Geldhart is a childhood survivor of the Holocaust. He arrived in New York City an orphan, reinvented himself as a bon vivant, married well, and found fame and fortune as a champion of authors who are passionate about their work rather than its best-seller potential. He is faced with a family-business conflict, the potential Japanese takeover of his increasingly insolvent firm. He must browbeat his three adult children, all principal stockholders whom he dismisses in varying degrees, into accepting his plan to publish a six-volume scholarly work on Nazi medical experiments, despite their belief that a highly successful commercial novel is the only thing that will keep them from going under.


The play premiered at the Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, Connecticut, in 1990[1] directed by David Warren in a workshop.[2]

The Substance of Fire opened Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons on March 17, 1991. Directed by Daniel Sullivan, the cast included Ron Rifkin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patrick Breen, and Jon Tenney.[3]

The play transferred to the Lincoln Center's Newhouse Theater on January 31, 1992.[4] The play closed on July 26, 1992 after 205 performances.[5]

Rifkin won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play.[6] The play won the 1992 Lucille Lortel Awards, Outstanding Director, Daniel Sullivan and Outstanding Actor, Ron Rifkin.[5]

The play was presented at the Mark Taper Forum in January 1993. Directed by Sullivan, the cast featured Patrick Breen (Martin Geldhart), Ron Rifkin (Isaac Geldhart), Jon Tenney (Aaron Geldhart), and Gena Rowlands (Marge Hackett).[7]

The play was revived Off-Broadway by Second Stage Theatre, opening on April 27, 2014. Directed by Trip Cullman, the cast featured John Noble, Halley Feiffer, Daniel Eric Gold, and Charlayne Woodard.[8][9][10]


Baitz and Sullivan reteamed for the film version, in which Rifkin and Parker reprised their stage roles. The cast also included Timothy Hutton, Tony Goldwyn, Lee Grant, Elizabeth Franz, Dick Latessa, and Eric Bogosian.[11][12]

The film was released by Miramax in the United States in 1996, after being shown at several film festivals, including the Deauville Festival du Film Americain (August–September 1996), Boston Film Festival (September 1996), and Mill Valley Film Festival (October 1996).[13] Sullivan was nominated for the Grand Special Prize at the Deauville Film Festival.[14]

See also


  1. Baitz, Jon Robin. "Introduction Script", The Substance of Fire, Samuel French, Inc., 1992; ISBN 0573692939, p. 5
  2. "History, 1985-1990",; accessed November 26, 2015
  3. Rich, Frank. "Theater Review. Resisting the Vortex By Living a Life Of Books and Anger", New York Times, March 18, 1991.
  4. The Substance of Fire Newhouse Theater",; accessed November 26, 2015
  5. "'The Substance of Fire' 1991" Archived 2015-09-01 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed November 26, 2015.
  6. "Awards, 1991"
  7. Drake, Sylvie. "Review. Dialogue Generates Heat in 'The Substance of Fire'", Los Angeles Times, January 22, 1993.
  8. Gioia, Michael. "Trip Cullman Will Direct Jon Robin Baitz Drama 'The Substance of Fire' at Second Stage",, January 17, 2014
  9. The Substance of Fire (2014) Archived 2015-11-26 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed November 26, 2015.
  10. Isherwood, Charles. "All Books Not Equal to Squabbling Family" New York Times, April 28, 2014.
  11. "Overview. 'The Substance of Fire'" New York Times, accessed November 26, 2015
  12. Ebert, Roger. "Movie Review.", March 14, p. 199.
  13. The Substance of Fire overview,; accessed November 27, 2015.
  14. The Substance of Fire,; accessed November 8, 2016.
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