Jon Robin Baitz Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The international flavor of Jon Robin Baitz’s plays, which span locales such as Southern California, South Africa, London, New York, Morocco, the Virgin Islands, and Mexico, grows out of Baitz’s family life. Born in Los Angeles to a father who was an executive with the international division of Carnation Milk Company and a mother who was “a larger-than-life-Auntie Mame type,” Baitz, from the age of seven to seventeen, lived in Brazil, England, and South Africa. When he returned to Los Angeles, he finished high school but decided against college because being a student seemed unreal and attending college, evasive. When his parents moved to Holland, he continued his travels, using their home as a base, and worked at various odd jobs: as a short-order cook, a tractor driver on a kibbutz, and a painter of an art gallery at The Hague.

He found himself a professional eavesdropper and, as a result of his intense preoccupation with listening to other people, developed into an “elevated yenta.” While deciding to be “out of the loop” and thinking of starting a small publishing company or buying a vineyard, he worked temporarily for a film producer as a “sort of” phone answerer. Out of this experience, he wrote a theater piece, Mizlansky/Zilinsky, a one-act play about two seedy Hollywood hustlers, and suddenly found himself to be a playwright. Fourteen years later he turned the play into a full-length work.

Leaving the United...

(The entire section is 573 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jon Robin Baitz is hailed for plays that examine outsiders gifted, or perhaps cursed, with a conscience, who must face political and ethical dilemmas which necessitate taking a moral stand. He was born in Beverly Hills, California, the son of a Carnation brand milk company executive. Because of his father’s work, Baitz spent his formative years overseas, in Brazil, Israel, England, Holland, and six critical years (1971-1977) in Durban, South Africa, when resistance to that country’s policy of apartheid was manifest in the streets. After returning to California (where he felt like an expatriate), Baitz opted not to pursue college but rather his first love: theater. He worked as a gofer for two minor independent Hollywood producers, which became the subject of his first work, the one-act Mizlansky/Silinsky.

Receiving plaudits for his fast-paced dialogue (reminiscent of that penned by David Mamet), Baitz turned to South Africa as the subject of his first full-length drama, The Film Society. A white film teacher who has used the shelter of his South African preparatory school to avoid confronting political realities must choose between furthering his own career or taking a stand against the local racist government. When the play moved to New York, Baitz, at twenty-seven, earned comparisons to Arthur Miller and David Hare and won the prestigious Oppenheimer Award. After his follow-up work, Dutch Landscape, an ambitious family drama set uneasily within an anti-apartheid plot, drew hostile reviews in Los Angeles, Baitz relocated to New York and, at age thirty, began what was essentially his comeback.

The Substance of Fire, his first New York success, examined the dilemma of Isaac Geldhart, the aging head of a once-thriving publishing house devoted to Holocaust studies. His sons contest control of the business when Isaac, a Holocaust survivor, risks bankruptcy by publishing a massive history of Nazi medical experiments. When Isaac loses financial control of the company (his sons want to...

(The entire section is 835 words.)