The minute Jon Robin Baitz mentions that he recently finished penning an episode of Alias, the interviewer’s mind comes to a screeching halt. He stops asking Baitz about what’s truly important — Ten Unknowns, a masterful, sexually charged, acidic work that delves into the brutal, unforgiving nature of the art world — and asks the really important question.
How does the season end? Do you know any secrets? Tell, tell!
Baitz laughs. And, of course, keeps mum — although he will say that the episode he crafted guest stars Joel Grey.
“I’m very good friends with [the show's creator] J.J. Abrams,” says Baitz, “and for the last three years he has asked me to write an episode. Finally the time was right.”
Abrams was lucky to get Baitz, who is a master crafter of language. And Ten Unknowns, which is receiving its area premiere at Signature Theater, is a sharp, trenchant work that concerns a painter living in self-imposed exile and attempts to bring him back into the spotlight. The play is gorgeously written, drenched in the glories of the spoken word.
“I crave language,” says Baitz. “The thing that drew me to the theater was the music of our feelings and our senses being expressed and articulated through a constructed verbal symphonic meld of the human voice. I love dialogue and human intellect and our capacity for self-delusion and misplaced passion. I particularly love the way actors — certain actors — are able to drink thirstily, swallow the text. And I write for that kind of actor that can use something very fluid and very articulate and has a great facility with language.”
As a gay man, Baitz says he feels no obligation to include gay content in his works — even though Ten Unknowns contains a fair share.
“I lived in obligation as a child,” says Baitz. “I lived dutifully and with the sense of the importance and responsibility of being appropriate in some way. My only obligation is to look inside myself as best I can. My sexuality is a part of me. It does not in any way define me politically, intellectually, emotionally. It is a component of a larger self. And I refuse to live in a ghetto of any sort, whether it’s creatively, culturally, or socially.”
Ten Unknowns runs through April 24 at Signature Theatre, 3806 S. Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington. Call 703-218-6500 or visit signature-theatre.org.