A two-act play, The Substance of Fire opens in spring, 1987, in a conference room of Kreeger/Geldhart Publishers in Manhattan. Sarah Geldhart, a woman in her mid-twenties, sits reading among many books and filing cabinets. Her brother Martin, in his late twenties, enters and greets her. Their conversation makes it clear that neither of them wishes to be present for the stockholders’ meeting for which their older brother has called them into town. Sarah, a television actress, had to leave in the middle of her scheduled shows, and Martin, who teaches landscape architecture at Vassar College, expresses his impatience by saying, “Let them sort it all out because I just don’t care.”
The other members of the family enter: Isaac Geldhart, a Holocaust survivor, whose publishing firm is on the verge of bankruptcy, and his eldest child, Aaron, vice president of the company, who at one time had a homosexual affair with the author of a book that he wishes to publish. Isaac is a powerful character—tyrannical, witty, insulting, and constantly belittling his children, who among them own sixty percent of the company stock. The four family members argue bitterly. Aaron, Sarah, and Martin do not approve of the way Isaac is running the publishing house. They feel he must publish more popular books and not merely the works that obsess him: books about the Jewish Holocaust.
Isaac displays both his nastiness and his integrity in his caustic and often funny monologues. He declares his unshakable intention to “publish Louis Fuchold’s six volumes on the Nazi medical experiments” and utterly rejects the sensational manuscript written by Aaron’s one-time lover; Isaac calls it “some trashy novel by a slicko-hipster.” He reminds his children that Abraham Kreeger, their mother’s father, started the firm to publish “serious work that...
(The entire section is 761 words.)