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Home > Columnists > Doug Strassler
March 16, 2017

Checking In With Courtney Baron


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For the When It’s You playwright the political is personal

By Doug Strassler

“I don’t know how to protect my children from the world,” Courtney Baron says, sipping a latte in a midtown coffee shop.

It’s a scary statement, delivered matter-of-factly by the playwright just as her newest work, the one-woman show When It’s You, is about to have its world premiere at Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre. When It’s You stars Obie Award-winner Ana Reeder as a single woman who returns to her Texas hometown and learns that her high school boyfriend is directly connected to a violent crime.

Gun violence is, sadly, an occurrence very much in the dramatic zeitgeist; it has been the focal point of a string of recent plays, including Scott Z. Burns’ The Library and Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock, as well as Martin Zimmerman’s current On the Exhale. And for Baron, who with writer husband Blair Singer has an eleven-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son, the subject matter certainly hits close to home.

“There are so many movies where the only plot point is how many people get killed,” Baron worries. “I don’t know how children can watch that. I don’t know how adults can watch that. You have to protect your children from it with a sense that ‘this is not okay.’”

Shortly after the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy, when her daughter was seven, Baron offered speechwriting skills to the activist group Moms Demand Action. “I was stunned to find how policy works,” she recalls. She also opted to use her professional role as her own call to action, searching for a way to marry the arts and .activism. “I am so interested in what makes theatre essential as an art form – not in a lofty sense, but how you can create a sense of intimacy,” she says. “I didn’t want to write something didactic because I don’t think that’s useful and it would be preaching to the choir.

“What interests me the most is what makes us culpable in society? What are we responsible for? Where does personal responsibility for social injustice begin?”

Baron found support in this sojourn from the Keen Company, with whom she has a long history; they produced her first play upon receiving her MFA from Columbia University. And she has returned to them throughout her career, most recently with the Keen Playwrights Lab, which supports  mid-career playwrights in the development of original full-length plays that fit with Keen Company’s mission to provoke identification, reflection, and emotional connection. It was there that When It’s You incubated.

“Every day in rehearsal has been an inspirational one,” Jonathan Silverstein, Keen Company artistic director as well as the director of When It’s You, says. “Courtney’s words, both in the room and on the page, are so truthful and moving. She has such a knack of finding the universal words to express the human experience that I am often in awe.”

For Baron, the feeling is mutual. Not only is she grateful for Keen’s continued support and for the lab (“it’s such a gift because there’s no group for us!”), but also for Reeder. “When I was first starting out, she sort of swirled around the group I was in,” Baron remembers. “I was always trying to get her in a reading; I had a big theatre crush on her! She is just the loveliest person in the room, ever.”

And while there is an overlap between Reeder’s character and Baron herself, who hails from Dallas, the playwright finds that you can more easily find her in the questions that When It’s You poses about safety and society.

“How do we incorporate something horrible into our lives and how do we move past it?” Barons asks. “The traditional ideas of forgiveness don’t make sense to me. What are we culpable for? How do we try to be the best people that we can be? I firmly believe that if everybody had that thought, it could be a glorious thing. Truly, truly glorious.” 

For ticket information about When It’s You, go to http://www.keencompany.org/when-its-you/

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