The Substance of Fire

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Cover from the L.A. Theatre Works audiocassette with Ron Rifkin and Shirley Knight

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

At its core is Isaac Geldhart, a childhood survivor of the Holocaust, who 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. 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 Playwrights Horizons production, directed by Daniel Sullivan, opened on March 17, 1991. The cast included Ron Rifkin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patrick Breen, Jon Tenney, and Maria Tucci. Rifkin won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play.

Baitz and Sullivan reteamed for the 1996 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. Sullivan was nominated for the Grand Special Prize at the Deauville Film Festival.

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