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'The Substance of Fire' review: Flawed but powerful

"The Substance of Fire" at Second Stage. Jon Robin Baitz's 1991 hit about a family and the dying publishing industry is revived in a production that includes John Noble (pictured). Credit: Carol Rosegg

Jon Robin Baitz, best known now for the dazzling "Other Desert Cities," burst into New York theater in the late '80s with an eerily mature mastery of intimate emotions and big ideas. In 1991, "The Substance of Fire" explored with rare insight the crumbling publishing industry and the effects of an intellectual bully of a father.

The second act never lived up to the first, which is also true in director Trip Cullman's workmanlike revival at the Second Stage Theatre. But John Noble has a grand, flawed majesty as the father. And despite the dated snapshot of the publishing world, the play still defines agonizing family dynamics and the struggle between commercial and serious work with timely power.

WHAT "The Substance of Fire"

WHERE Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St.

INFO $68-$84; 212-246-4422,

BOTTOM LINE Early Baitz flawed but still intense.


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