Baron is currently starring in Seattle Rep's The Chosen, his first production at one of Seattle's "big three" theaters, but he's already well known in the fringe scene for the smash hits Extropia and Paper Airplane, which were developed with Collaborator, a now-defunct ensemble Baron cofounded two years ago. For better or worse, the story of Collaborator's inception speaks to a very particular moment in the Seattle arts scene. "It feels like we did porn or something--we did it, we were really young, we needed the money…" He laughs, not without some anxiety. Baron and other future members of the group were living in a Pioneer Square live/work loft, which was located right next door to the residence of a Lucky Strike executive named (hilariously) Hans. After the roommates used the loft to host a few art parties and student performances, Hans said, "I think I can get you guys some money." The group scrambled to pull together a limited liability company so they could accept the Lucky Strike cash, and then had to invent a project to make use of it. Thus Extropia, bastard child of cigarettes and poverty, an experimental play that Stranger critic Adrian Ryan called "dazzling," had its ignominious birth.
According to Baron, Collaborator was the kind of outfit where everyone does everything, but some people do more everything than others. Baron was a producer, writer, director, and actor, among other roles, and he says that making the shows exhausted him. He's still passionate about developing original projects ("I think Seattle is ripe for original work--audiences don't even know how ripe they are"), but he's been concentrating on acting since Paper Airplane closed last June.
Baron has been called a "physical actor"--although he was called that in a dance program (Baron recently performed with locust at On the Boards), where the phrase was probably just as much rationalization as description. He doesn't particularly identify with the concept. "In my brain, all acting is physical," he says. He changes the subject to point out a tiny dog 30 feet away from where we're sitting at Volunteer Park. The dog is using its nose to propel a lavender ball easily twice its size.
The phrase "physical acting" does, however, have some explanatory power. It helps describe how Baron's nimbleness both diverged from and complemented dancer Ellie Sandstrom's powerful, gymnastic grace in the locust performance. It explains why I still vividly remember Baron's fearfully self-protective Ebenezer Scrooge in Fellow Passengers. But the real testament to the versatility of Baron's style is his performance in The Chosen, an adaptation of the Chaim Potok novel about two Jewish boys and the way they absorb and push against the traditions they've inherited. He is able to transform the purely intellectual and religious frustration of his character, amplifying it into something kinetic and powerfully legible. Baron has received strong notices for this latest performance across the board, but the praise he prizes most came from a Seattle Rep volunteer. "She said I 'seemingly did nothing, but it was really clear'," he says, grinning.
Five teenagers are arguing over whether the rectangular body of water in front of us is a reservoir or a pond. Baron isn't listening. He's describing how he grew up in Long Island and the "rich mega-suburb" of Beaverton, Oregon, in a Jewish household where "'Conservative' was a word that got thrown around a lot, but really we were Reform." His character in The Chosen may be an archetype of religious rebellion, but Baron knows something about the secular values of adolescence. He's the first male Baron in forever to refuse to be bar mitzvahed ("The Hebrew lessons made me physically sick," he says), and this refusal upset his father.
In fact, his decision to take the role in The Chosen (big break or no) is distancing Baron from his family, in the way that pursuing your talent sometimes does. When Baron, who's now 26, was 18 and on his way north to attend Cornish, his older brother became Orthodox, moved to Israel, and got married, all in quick succession. Orthodox Jews don't approve of Chaim Potok, Baron tells me, but he e-mailed his brother some of the positive reviews of the show nonetheless: He hasn't heard anything back. Baron says, "He knows I'm an actor, that this is what I do." He looks out at the reservoir. "But I assume he's not happy." Then he looks at the clock on my cell phone, and it's past time for him to get back to theater.