by Michael Bracken
When It’s You, presented by The Keen Company at Theatre Row, is hardly the first play to examine the anatomy of a mass murder. But Courtney Baron’s engaging if tepid drama uses the shooting of twelve people, four of whom die, more as a jumping off point than the subject of the play. As much as we learn about the shootings, “When It’s You” isn’t really about them.
It’s about Ginnifer (Ana Reeder), the play’s narrator and sole character. A thirty-seven-year-old woman whose high school boyfriend, Jason Hanley, committed the murders, she’s dazed and confused and wants to talk. And she does. She starts by giving us times and places, where and when, for both herself and Jason on the morning of the massacre. (She woke up at 4 a.m.; he left his house at 4 a.m., etc.) When she speaks of the shootings, more often than not it’s about how they relate to her. And when she’s not talking about the shootings, she’s talking about herself.
Ginnifer takes the incident very personally. She seems to be asking what it says about her that Jason is a mass murderer, even if he was only her boyfriend for six months and that was twenty years ago. She seems to be asking what happened to her life.
Whether it’s a wake-up call or an excuse, Jason’s attack gives her reason to examine who she is. The play’s structure – massacre circled by anecdotal satellites – allows her to roam freely among Jason, herself in relation to Jason, and herself in relation to life.
We learn about her father, who left when she was four, her brother, happy to be far away in New Hampshire, and her deceased mother, whom she misses and whose Dallas house she inhabits. She tells us about her cabbage patch doll and her last boyfriend, who left when she failed to up her game (improve her sexual performance) to his satisfaction. And she always circles back to Jason. We learn a lot about him but it’s mostly superficial: we don’t get to know him very well.
It’s Ginnifer we get to know. On an almost bare stage (scenic design by Steven C. Kemp), she reveals herself freely. As directed by Jonathan Silverstein, her delivery is deliberate but casual. We believe her. But for all her candor and a sprinkling of embarrassing factoids, there’s no aha! moment: no meaningful revelation or flash of insight. Her tale of Jason peaks in a burst of carnage; her own story is flat.
Baron uses the counterpoint between the narratives of Jason and Ginnifer well. She’s the sane one, but what good does it do her? Her life is on auto-pilot. Ginnifer’s character is well-writ and well-played, but she doesn’t learn or grow or catch us off guard. She ends the play pretty much where she started.
The closest When It’s You gets to a compelling conclusion is a statement by Ginnifer during the play’s closing moments. “That is the lesson. My whole life: forgiveness,” she says. Then she tells us how she’s decided not to forgive Jason. So if her life is forgiveness, why won’t she forgive him? Or does she refrain from forgiving him because she’s changing her life? I’m not about to answer either question; God knows the play doesn’t.
With just a hint of a Texas drawl, Reeder plays Ginnifer like someone just back from the war, weary and shell-shocked but not beaten. She knows her life doesn’t really work, but she hasn’t figured out what to do about it.
When It’s You. Through April 8 at The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues). www.keencompany.org. 70 minutes without intermission.
Photos: Carol Rosegg